New California Law Means Free Community College

October 13, 2017 will be a day remembered by Californian students, families and educators for the rest of their lives. Why, you ask? Because that Friday was not a day of superstition, but instead, the beginning of a brighter future for students in California with the passing of Assembly Bill 19, which offers one free year to full-time community college students. The Bill was spearheaded by Governor Jerry Brown and has added California to the list of states that have already cut costs to further higher education. Can we get a round of applause?

The bill will grant first-time college goers whom are full-time students free access to a full school year of education. The goal of this action was to help aid graduating high school seniors as they branch out into the real world and entice them to continue their education. California already has one of the most affordable community college systems in the nation, where on average tuition costs about $1,100 per year, but thanks to AB 19, students can now make that a one-time payment for two years of schooling. Unlike previous bills that have targeted low-income students attending college, AB 19 applies to all students, regardless of financial status. This is an important aspect of the bill, because as higher education becomes more expensive, many students from middle class families cannot afford to further their education either and often opt out of college to immediately join the workforce and gain independent financial stability. California has 144 community colleges in the state and this bill will apply to all of them, so students applying to community colleges will have a wide variety to choose from.

As helpful as a “free first year of community college for all” sounds, Brown’s financial department is pushing back against the measure, expressing concerns about the revenue the state would have to generate to cover the cost. The current estimated cost is around 31.1 million dollars a year. Supporters of the bill argue that if California’s government wants to change the college-going community and culture in the state, then they should be taking these measures to insure that all students have the ability to seek higher education. It’s been estimated that an additional 19,000 students would qualify for the benefits of AB 19. 2.1 million students are educated in California’s community college system: that’s 2.1 million brains, 2.1 million futures being paved, 2.1 million hearts with a dream, and they all matter. The budget for next year needs to be set by June 2018, and only time will tell if Brown’s financial department will make any changes to the bill. For now at least, it’s one giant leap for college-student kind!

Many UCLA students have never had a community college experience, however, we have a large amount of transfer students here who did. For them, community college was part of the process that lead them to being Bruins. Over half of the students enrolled in California community colleges are female, 53% as of last year. Over 63% of California's community college students are from diverse ethnic backgrounds. California’s JCs educate 70% of the state’s nurses, 80% of firefighters, law enforcement personnel, and EMTs. 29% of people who graduate from a UC started at a community college, and 51% of Cal State school graduates are from community college backgrounds. That’s a pretty hefty list of positives!  So here’s three cheers to promoting higher education for all, for free community college and for the promise of brighter futures for all Californian students.

Photos courtesy of Flickr