SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California took a step toward making college more affordable with Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature of a bill to provide a free year of college to all first-time, full-time community college students.
Assembly Bill 16, a key component of the “Degrees not Debt” education plan pushed by the Assembly Democratic Caucus, alleviates a major road block for many who want to take college courses but do not qualify for fee waivers.
Before 1984, community college courses in the Golden State were free. But fees have since risen to $46 per unit, and a year of tuition is as much as $1,104 for a full-time student.
“Today’s approval of AB 19 is a big win for California’s students, economy and for our state’s long term global competitiveness,” Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, said in a statement. “Too many California college students find themselves burdened with crippling education debt, making it difficult for these students to buy a home, raise a family and contribute to our economy.”
McCarty, along with Assemblymen David Chiu, D-San Francisco, and Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, wrote the bill in hopes of reversing a recent slide in community college attendance. California’s community colleges were forced to trim spending by 2.7 percent earlier this year in an effort to close a $34 million shortfall largely brought on by decreasing enrollment statewide.
“It’s critical for the future competitiveness of our state that we invest in higher education,” Chiu said in September after the bill was approved by the Legislature. “The American dream, which used to be predicated on getting an education that would get you trained for the workforce, has diminished in California. We have to change what we’re doing.”
When the state began charging tuition fees at community colleges in 1984, the Board of Governors Fee Waiver was created to offset the financial impact of higher education on low income students. Today, the waiver is used by about 43 percent of California community college students at an annual cost to taxpayers of $800 million. At an estimated cost of between $31 and $50 million, AB 16 is a relative bargain.
The legislation was created in part to meet goals set by former President Barack Obama in his January, 2015 State of the Union address, in which he called for free community college for all. The bill is further based on programs initiated in several counties including Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and Siskiyou that provide free tuition and a guaranteed California State University transfer spot to students who meet eligibility requirements.
California Democrats have stated their goal is to provide a college education that is as accessible and affordable as a high school education to residents of the Golden State.
Brown earlier this year rejected efforts to provide free tuition at all public universities in the state, calling the plan “unfeasible.”