California makes first year of community college free

FILE PHOTO: Members of the 2017 graduating class march in to begin the College of the Canyons commencement ceremony held in the Honor Grove at College of the Canyons in Valencia on June 2. Dan Watson/For the Signal

First-year, full-time students at all 114 California Community Colleges will soon be able to attend their first year for free under legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Friday.

Assembly Bill 19, or the California College Promise, by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) will waive students’ first year of tuition fees as long as they are enrolled in 12 or more semester units.

Supporters of the bill said it would increase student performance and degree completion, and decrease regional barriers to college access.

To qualify for the program, community colleges must follow policy goals which include developing partnerships with local high school districts or public four-year universities and adopting programs to benefit students through guidance and mentorship.

The model will follow what some community colleges have already implemented at the local level.  In Santa Clarita, College of the Canyons (COC) began offering its own College Promise Program, called the First Year Promise, which benefited nearly 200 first-year, full-time COC students this year.

“These programs have been demonstrated to expand access to financial, promote equity, increase enrollment, improve academic performances and boost college completion rates,” Santiago said in his bill proposal.

Before AB 19, 43 percent of community college students received a similar tuition waiver through a program called the Board of Governors (BOG) Fee Waiver.

However, this BOG Waiver was only available to low-income students throughout the state.  Through the College Promise Program any student, regardless of financial status, will be eligible to receive aid during his or her first year.

The Senate Appropriations Committee predicts this program will benefit an additional 19,000 community college students and save students anywhere from $1,100 to $1,400 per year, depending on their course load.

Overall, the new program will cost the state approximately $31.1 million or more each year, depending on the number of students who enroll as first-year, full-time students at one of the state’s 114 community colleges.

Earlier this year, the bill passed in a 61-16 vote in the Assembly and a 31-7 vote in the Senate.

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