Capitol Alert

A year of free tuition for California community college students? Jerry Brown will decide

Alexander Ravera and Patric Brazier look at a class list at American River College in 2013.
Alexander Ravera and Patric Brazier look at a class list at American River College in 2013. Sacramento Bee file

California community college students could get a year of free tuition under a bill sent to the governor on Wednesday.

Assembly Bill 19, by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, would waive the first year of fees for any first-time student who enrolls full-time at a community college. The measure aims to boost declining enrollment and address what is expected to be a shortage of more than a million college-educated workers in the California economy within the next decade.

“We know that if a student goes full-time, a student’s success rate is much higher than if they go part-time,” Santiago said. “This is a huge step to make a college-going culture in California.”

At $46 per credit, or less than $1,400 annually for a full course load, California’s community colleges are the cheapest in the country. But other educational and living expenses can run into the thousands of dollars per year, and less financial aid is available than for students at four-year universities.

The bill represents a small piece of a broader effort to eliminate tuition at public colleges in California, which the Brown administration dismissed earlier this year as well-intended but not financially viable. About half of community college students already receive fee waivers because of need; a legislative analysis estimated that AB 19 would cost another $31 million per year.

A handful of other states, including Tennessee, Oregon and Rhode Island, have also started tuition-free community college programs in recent years.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff