Capitol Alert

Free community college could soon be a reality in California

Californians could soon get two years of community college for free, enough to earn an associate’s degree.

In 2017, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the California College Promise, waiving the first year of community college tuition for full-time students. Assembly Bill 2, announced Tuesday, would add a second year to that program.

“When we started this bill, we came up with a very simple concept: One (year) is such a lonely number. So we came up with two,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, said at a Tuesday press conference.

The program applies to first-time students enrolled in 12 or more credits, provided that they have completed a federal student aid application or California Dream Act application. It is not restricted to California residents, Santiago said.

The bill contains no income requirement. However, it does not cover other costs related to attending community college, such as student fees and textbooks.

“Look, this is personal for me. I’m a father of a community college student,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has a foster son attending a culinary arts program. “I know how. these programs save lives. I know how they breathe hope.”

Garcetti said that universal higher education is a bipartisan effort, something supported by Democrats like him and Republicans like Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

“It is something that is sweeping the nation and it is a basic right,” Garcetti said.

Garcetti challenged the argument that this is handing something to young people.

“They’re working their tails off,” he said.

Santiago said that “skin in the game for students is you’ve got to study and put everything on the line to get out of here.”

He added that this bill is just a part of a larger conversation that he hoped would one day lead to every Californian student being able to earn a bachelor’s degree debt-free.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.