Capitol Alert

California will provide a year of free community college for new students

Why California students need debt-free college

Monique Graham, a fourth-year communication and dance major at Sacramento State, is $40,000 in debt from student loans. She explains how one proposal by Assembly Democrats' would help her.
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Monique Graham, a fourth-year communication and dance major at Sacramento State, is $40,000 in debt from student loans. She explains how one proposal by Assembly Democrats' would help her.

California community colleges will provide a year of free tuition after Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed legislation that aims to boost declining enrollment and address a shortage of college-educated workers in the state.

Assembly Bill 19 waives the first year of fees for any first-time student who enrolls full-time at one of 114 community colleges in the state. About half of the system’s 2.1 million students already receive fee waivers because of financial need.

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, authored by Democratic Assemblymen Miguel Santiago of Los Angeles, David Chiu of San Francisco and Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, represents a small piece of a broader campaign to eliminate tuition at public colleges in California. The Brown administration dismissed that effort earlier this year as well-intended but not financially viable, though a legislative analysis estimated that AB 19 would only 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

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