Breaking down CA’s bill promising free first year at community colleges

The ratification of AB 19 could make college radically more accessibly for Californians. Use licensed under Bethany Pham, Staff Writer

Last Friday, Governor of California Jerry Brown signed a bill granting Californians a free first year of community college in an endeavor to make community college more enticing and accessible.

With the officiation of the bill, Brown created the California College Promise (CCP) program. This program will campaign to give first-year, full-time students one free academic year of community college, as outlined by Assembly Bill 19 (AB 19). A full-time student has been defined by the bill as a student who completes “12 or more semester units or the equivalent”. An academic year was defined as “the total of the summer term that immediately precedes the first semester or quarter of the fall term, and the two consecutive semesters or three quarters that immediately follow that summer term. Each semester or quarter is approximately the same length.”

Though the bill sounds like a dream-come-true for low-income students and those that have been struggling to return to college, there are some details that have not yet been solidified. A final legislature will decide the ultimate outcome of the new policy, but speculation has transpired over the bill’s flaws.

For one, it is unclear if students need to apply in order to qualify for coverage. Will there be a cut-off for students that have a certain income? Can students that do not necessarily need financial aid be able to take advantage of the CCP program?

Another concern is how the program will supposedly give students a completely free year of schooling. What is assured, more or less, is that the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges will certify certain colleges for the CCP program and provide them with funding meant to be used to waive tuitions. However, could colleges choose to only partially waive tuitions, or not waive tuitions at all with the funds? AB 19 states in Section 76396.3 that the colleges “may use funding appropriated pursuant to this article to waive some or all of the fees” for students that also submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or a California Dream Act (see how Trump almost terminated DACA) application. Does this also narrow down those that qualify for coverage?

The largest factor in making this bill a subject of debate is its allocation in California’s budget for education. This bill has surprisingly garnered the support of a good deal of Republicans as well as a majority of Democrats, but those who made their “Nays” heard were those worried about where funding for the tuition waivers would come from. Supporting the CCP program would rake in an annual cost of more than $30 million, Brown’s finance department argues.

All the same, passing AB 19 and solidifying the development of the CCP program will set Californian education on the path of former president Obama’s dream for American education and make higher education much more accessible in California.