San Francisco, San Jose launch free college tuition initiatives

Reduced costs, annual budgets, new scholarships and grants at various higher ed institutions

Community colleges in two of California’s biggest cities have announced plans to substantially expand access to public education by offering residents the chance to earn an associate degree for free.

While states like Tennessee, Kentucky and Oregon have free community college initiatives, the city of San Francisco’s announcement early this year made it the first program to offer free tuition to all residents regardless of previous education, age or income.

In March, the city of San Jose announced San Jose Promise, a program that will reduce costs significantly for about 800 low-income and first-generation students in the 2017-18 school year.

An annual budget of $5.4 million is expected to cover tuition and other fees for San Francisco’s residents at the City College of San Francisco; $3.3 million of that total will cover low-income students’ books, health services and other fees.

The city hopes to attract first-time college attendees and students who want to retrain for the evolving workforce, says Susan Lamb, chancellor at City College.

Students pursuing a bachelor’s degree can take advantage of the transfer agreement between California’s community colleges and all of its state four-year institutions.

While the college expects an uptick in enrollment, the institution will rely on its current support infrastructure to help new students integrate and succeed on campus. Lamb says this includes counseling services for re-entry students, as well as cohort-style learning that encourages students to form their own support networks.

“We say that students need a certain amount of training for today’s economy, yet we are setting up financial barriers,” she says. “This free initiative is something we need to do for our city residents so college is truly accessible.”

About an hour’s drive south, new scholarships at San Jose City College and Evergreen Valley College will cover tuition and fees, textbooks, transportation and summer bridge program costs for approximately 500 of the city’s high school graduates.

And West Valley College will offer 300 students grants to pay for textbooks and summer prep sessions.

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