California Gov. Gavin Newsom hopes to let some community college students off the hook for tuition for two full years.
As part of his budget proposal announced in January, the governor wants to extend by an additional year the California College Promise Program, established in 2017 by former Gov. Jerry Brown.
The program currently covers full-time community college students tuition for their first year.
To be eligible for the Promise Program currently, students must be enrolled in 12 or more credits per semester, and must also complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or a California Dream Act application.
The proposed legislation will provide $1.4 billion for higher education to support increased enrollment, Newsom spokesman Jesse Melgar said in an emailed statement this week.
Of the $1.4 billion, community colleges will receive $402 million to cover students for those first two years.
Newsom’s proposal has yet to be finalized and then must go to the state legislature for approval.
The expense of college keeps some students from exploring a higher education. And this proposed legislation could knock down that barrier, said Alisha Rosas, spokeswoman for Chaffey College, a state community college in Rancho Cucamonga.
“Education is an equalizer in our society and if we could help students find the staircase that takes them from a two-year education to a four-year education to possibly graduate school, that would be amazing,” Rosas said.
Rosas said the average student at Chaffey College pays $46 per unit, which equals to about $500 for a full load of courses per semester.
Unfortunately, many students do not have the support they need to even pay for one semester of tuition at a community college level.
The proposed legislation could also help high school students who plan on attending their dream school, Rosas said.
“Many high school students have a dream school in mind but often have trouble finding a way to pay for it,” Rosas said. “Through this legislation, students can easily finish their general education requirements for free in two years at a local community college. The biggest investment you can make is in yourself, and every student is worth the investment.”
Newsom’s proposal was also praised by Eloy Ortiz Oakley, California Community Colleges Chancellor.
“Extending the College Promise will give more Californians the opportunity to gain the skills and credentials needed to succeed in today’s economy,” Oakley said in an emailed statement.
Oakley added that this will incentivize colleges to align with K-12 and university partners, while adopting student success reforms.
Bill Scroggins, Mt. San Antonio College president and CEO, said Newsom’s attempt to build on the previous California College Promise program is needed and can help solve some of the unique challenges college students face.
“Cal Grants and Pell Grants are falling behind,” Scroggins said. “The amount of financial aid they provide is not sufficient to cover the students’ costs. This new monetary addition to the California College Promise program could help students purchase their textbooks as well as possibly help cover their child support or even transportation.”
Scroggins said the program alone produced almost $1 million for Mt. SAC last year, which benefited both the college and its students.
“The only possible issue with this legislation is that the money goes directly to the students,” Scroggins said.
“Although this money is theirs, its intention is to help students mostly with their academic needs, such as textbooks, school supplies, or anything like that.”
Scroggins said Mt. SAC will need more advising and financial planning to help students use the money granted to them as best as possible.
Katrina Kasenda, freshman computer engineering major, transferred to La Verne from Chaffey College.
She said it is great for students in community college to gain this free access to education, but that the proposed legislation could also dramatically add on to the overwhelming number of students attending community colleges.
“My siblings also went to community college and a couple years ago (and) I remember they were able to still register for classes that were already at full capacity,” Kasenda said. “But now community colleges are being very strict about the number of students attending because it’s getting too full, and more free college can add to that.”
Christopher Padilla, a student in the La Verne master’s of business administration program, said that although this proposal sounds great, there are underlying issues not being addressed.
“As a community college transfer student to La Verne I’ve seen first-hand the downside of free community college,” Padilla said. “The cash money that is given directly to students is supposed to be used for educational purposes, but the reality is that students do not use the money for that.”
Padilla said that, as a former community college student and Mt. SAC financial specialist, he has seen many community college students use their money inefficiently.
By contrast, students attending four-year universities are forced to use their money solely for their education.
“The (proposed) legislation could possibly devalue the meaning of education,” Padilla said. “Since students are not paying for their classes, it can be very easy for some to not go to class or just drop out.”
Alondra Campos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.