New bill will make first year free for future students


Diablo Valley College graduation on May 21, 2015 at Viking Stadium. File photo/Inquirer

Summer Pagán, Social media editor

Thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing of Assembly Bill No. 19, California Community Colleges will become free for new students.

The bill will wave expenses for first-time students who are taking a full-time course load.

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago proposed the bill as a way to boost enrollment and graduation rates and expand access to financial aid.

Free tuition has been in the air ever since Sen. Bernie Sanders’s run for president in 2016, and this bill brings it one step closer for higher education students in California.

According to the press release on Santiago’s webpage, the goal to decrease the amount of student debt is fulfilled when students do not have to pay for their first year tuition.

Vicki Gordon, president of the Contra Costa Governing Board, wrote via email, “the debt that we are seeing today’s graduates saddled with is a huge burden. They seem to be putting the dream of buying a home off longer than past generations.”

As Gordon explained, she attended Diablo Valley College during the shift from it being free to charging a small amount for units. Because community college was more affordable when she attended, Gordon believes that, “anything that helps our students at the ‘in coming’ stage of community college level is a very positive move towards  student successes and completion.”

Gordon also wrote, “if they are not successful at community college, they won’t be able to move into a career that requires a certificate or go to at a four year college.”

A large driver behind the bill is economic: according to a 2014 white paper by the Public Policy Institute of California, the state may face a shortage of  one million college and 1.5 million workers with some form of higher or specialized education by 2025.

The white paper argues this gap between workers with higher education skills needed and the supply of those available would mean missed opportunities for the state’s economy and for Californians who have a chance to earn higher paying jobs.

California’s situation is also not unique. A 2013 study conducted by Georgetown University found that 65 percent of job openings in the United States will require post-secondary education and training by 2020.

Contra Costa Community College District Chancellor Fred Wood wrote via email, “the education at DVC has always been extremely high quality, and it is good to see statewide efforts to make it more affordable for our students.”

However Chancellor Wood explained that because some aspects of the bill are still unknown, there is considerable uncertainty around the bill, especially when it comes to the amount of funding.

Funding for tuition-free community college could increase taxes, although instead of money going to individual students through scholarships or grants, it could go to paying the colleges directly.

The details of Assembly Bill 19 will continue to be worked out throughout the 2018-19 budget talks.