Bill Aims to Expand California's Free Community College Program

California lawmakers are considering a new law that would expand a tuition program to help thousands of community college students graduate without debt.

The California College Promise (CCP), signed into law in 2017 by then-California Gov. Jerry Brown, waives first-year tuition fees for eligible full-time community college students.

But a new bill, Assemby Bill 2, could expand the program to waive fees for two academic years, potentially saving full-time students about $1,350 dollars in tuition and fees a year.

The proposed legislation will add $160 million into the state's community college districts to help fund the second year of free tuition, based on the number of students who would have been eligible to receive the subsidy during the 2017-2018 year.

AB 2 also expands the pool of students who are eligible for free tuition. Previously, the fee waiver was only available to first-time students. Under the new bill, anyone who doesn't already have a degree would be eligible.

San Diego County has nine community colleges. All of them have some form of the CCP.

In 2018, Mira Costa College used its funding from CCP to cover tuition for about 500 low-income students. Stephanie Rivera was one of those students. 

"I grew up in Encinitas and being lower income, I didn't have any SAT prep or I couldn't stay after school because I had to help my mother with another job," said Rivera.

She attends Mira Costa College's Encinitas campus and plans on becoming a doctor.

"It definitely did level the playing field for me because I didn't have to worry about textbook costs. I didn't have to worry about food rationing. I didn't have to worry about holding a 9-to-5 job," explained Rivera.

What colleges want students to walk away with instead is preparation for advanced education and training for the many middle-skilled jobs in fields such as automotive, accounting and child care, which are in constant need of qualified workers.

"We know that's a barrier for students even looking at higher education," said Kristen Huyck, Director of Public and Governmental Relations at Mira Costa College. "They don't even want to start college because of the debt that they know that they could walk away with."

Assembly Bill 2 would have to pass the state Senate and state Assembly and be signed by the governor before it can be enacted.

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