The financial commitment approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom to expand community college access throughout the state by waiving tuition for two years drew rave reviews from local and state officials.
Newsom allocated as part of the state budget deal money earmarked to make the first two years of community college free for students attending a full load of courses for the first time.
The decision, which is a part of the $215 billion annual spending plan signed Thursday, June 27, built on the foundation established by a 2017 state law offering free tuition to certain students.
County Supervisor David Canepa lauded the most recent mandate as one standing to broaden access for countless students across the region, and ultimately the state.
“Make no mistake about it, this will be a policy decision that will last generations,” he said.
Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, too appreciated the allocation in a prepared statement.
“Expanding free community college to the first two years for first-time, full-time students is a good step towards addressing the affordability issues for a subset of community college students. I applaud this effort, while also believing we need to do much more to address the basic needs of all California community college students,” said Berman, who has authored legislation allowing students struggling with affordability to sleep on community college campuses in their cars. The legislation advanced through the Assembly and is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The money for free community college arrived as part of a package alongside $41.8 million to expand the Cal Grant scholarship program, plus an additional $96.7 million to grow support services for college students with children. Money was also set aside to fund initiatives for those struggling to afford the cost of living while attending classes.
State Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley also admired the variety of financial commitments.
“Gov. Newsom and the state Legislature deserve thanks for supporting community college students in the budget signed into law,” he said in a prepared statement. “The budget expands the California College Promise, provides resources to help tackle hunger and homelessness and takes a first step toward broadly increasing need-based financial aid by expanding the Cal Grant program.”
The California College Promise was approved by lawmakers in 2017 with an intent to waive fees for those who are not exempted from paying tuition due to inadequate income. The program expanded the Board of Governors fee waiver program, established in 1985, to increase access for those facing affordability challenges. As it stands, roughly half of the state’s community college students receive some fashion of fee waiver, according to the Promise program’s website.
The state initiative has spread to local school systems too, and Skyline College in San Bruno was an early adopter of a fee waiver program for those meeting benchmarks to graduate on time.
Students enrolled in the Skyline Promise Scholar program can seek financial support by getting school fees waived or covered, while also tracking down additional money for books, technology and transportation. Students can also access a lending library for school materials, attend the program’s summer school and get additional technology access.
The program launched in 2016 has been widely successful, according to educators. Of the 139 students enrolled in the pilot year, 96 percent stayed at Skyline College into the following spring. Such a retention rate tops the schools general 85 percent rate. Last year, the program served 253 students and 91 percent stayed enrolled, nearly 8 percent better than the general rate.
A staunch advocate for the program, Canepa had tracked down county funds to help build and expand the reach of the Skyline program. Last year, he gathered about $5,000 to donate toward the program and later suggested he may favor pursuing a county tax to offer a dedicated funding source.
Following Newsom’s most recent decision though, Canepa said he reversed his position and suggested a local financial commitment will likely not be necessary.
“The county is not going to have to spend one dollar because of the leadership of Gov. Gavin Newsom,” said Canepa.
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