Uncertain CA community colleges eye tuition cuts

Uncertain CA community colleges eye tuition cuts


Community College studentLittle was heard about president Barack Obama’s call, in his last State of the Union address, to make community college free around the country. But now, facing gnawing affordability problems and the prospect of weakened enrollment, many of California’s community colleges — and sympathetic officials — have embarked on a patchwork of programs and initiatives designed to capitalize on the prestige of the president’s vision. 

Perhaps predictably, ground zero for the new effort is the city of Oakland, where Mayor Libby Schaaf, a former aide to Gov. Jerry Brown, has pushed one of the more sweeping and aggressive moves to alter the way community colleges are paid for. Schaaf “is championing a $39 million citywide initiative called Oakland Promise that includes a free semester of community college for new graduates,” as the San Jose Mercury News reported. “While Oakland’s initiative is far more ambitious and costly than most of the other new programs inspired by Obama’s America’s College Promise, more than a dozen other colleges statewide are also advertising free tuition, extra advising and mentoring or expanded summer orientation programs for the coming academic year.”

Mission College in Santa Clara is giving $1,000 scholarships to local students — roughly equivalent to a year’s tuition — through a new program called Mission First. West Valley College in Saratoga is offering a tuition-free first semester to 600 local high school graduates. Skyline College in San Bruno touts a scholarship for recent high school graduates bearing the motto “Get in. Get through. Get out … on time!”

Municipal momentum

Policymakers in other big California cities have also put forth plans to bring down community college costs. In San Francisco, “Supervisor Jane Kim introduced a proposal to eliminate tuition for City College of San Francisco students and to help them cover the cost of books, transportation and child care,” Inside Higher Ed noted. “The Free City College Proposal would eliminate enrollment fees for all San Francisco residents and workers who work at least part time in the city. Students whose fees are already covered by financial aid would still be eligible for up to $1,000 in grants for textbooks, transportation and child care.”

The move came in the wake of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s announcement, during his State of the City address, that he would raise $1.5 million for a new program paying the way of LAUSD grads for their first year of community college, “splitting its estimated initial $3 million cost with the district,” according to LAist. Because the Mayor of Los Angeles has no official control over city schools, the site added, “Garcetti’s role in the initiative appears to be purely advisory” beyond his fundraising effort, which will target philanthropic and business donors. 

Statewide legislation

In Sacramento, meanwhile, lawmakers considered the so-called California College Promise, which would allocate more financial aid toward ancillary costs of community college such as transportation and housing. Known as Assembly Bill 2681, the legislation would also “facilitate partnerships between community colleges and school districts to create more college preparatory courses for high school students” and “waive remediation classes for some students, therefore shortening their time to completion,” according to the Long Beach Post. The bill passed the state Assembly’s Committee on Higher Education last month.

The precarious financial position of the majority of in-state enrollees and students has begun to weigh heavily on administrators and policymakers, who hope to keep community colleges both solvent enough and sufficiently well attended to remain going. A recent report prepared by the Institute for College Access and Success suggested that as much as 61 percent of California community college students come from “very low income” families (defined as those earning under $30,000 a year), with over 55 percent, based on FAFSA calculations, “are not expected to contribute to college expenses,” as GoodCall observed

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