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City College may tie free tuition to grades

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Interim Chancellor Susan Lamb emailed Mayor Ed Lee about the assumption that free tuition at City College of San Francisco would be tied to academic performance. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco is on the cusp of finalizing an agreement to make tuition free at City College of San Francisco, but at least one sticking point remains over whether students have to meet certain academic requirements to be eligible.

As cities across the nation discuss free higher education, the efforts are not as simple or all encompassing as they might first seem. In New York, students receiving free tuition will have to live and work in the state after graduation. In San Francisco, undocumented immigrants will need to establish California residency before attending for free.

The latest caveat in San Francisco is that students may need to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average and complete half of their units every semester to receive free tuition, according to an email from Interim Chancellor Susan Lamb that was obtained Tuesday by the San Francisco Examiner.

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Lamb said in the email Monday to Mayor Ed Lee that the college has been preparing to roll out free tuition next year on the assumption that students would need to meet the academic requirements.

“I have heard from staff that this was not the original intent of Free City and that regardless of academic standing, a student should be allowed to financially benefit,” Lamb wrote. “I am concerned regarding this new perspective because of the variance from our current college and state policies, the potential negative impact on student success, and the possible abuse of taxpayer monies.”

But Supervisor Jane Kim, who argued with the mayor about using voter-approved funding for the effort for months, wants San Francisco residents to attend for free no matter their academic standing.

“Free City College has always been about expanding educational opportunity to everyone, regardless of income or current academic status,” Kim said in an email through a spokesperson. “The last thing that we should do is ration education — especially not when a higher degree is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

CCSF Board of Trustees President Thea Selby, however, said she is also supportive of the academic requirements for free tuition.

“This is the policy of community colleges in California,” Selby said. “We have a strong desire in community colleges to have our students succeed and success is about passing your classes.”

Lamb said under current policy, students who do not meet the requirements are placed on academic probation and in danger of losing financial aid.

“The college’s understanding was that Free City would also require students to complete classes and be in good academic standing,” Lamb said.

A spokesperson for the mayor did not return requests for comment.

The dispute may be cause for concern since student registration is just weeks away.

The mayor, Kim and Lamb still need to finalize a memorandum of understanding between the college and San Francisco before $5.4 million is disbursed to CCSF for free tuition and some expenses next school year.

Lamb said in the email that she is “concerned that we will have difficulty reaching agreement” on an MOU because of the issue.

Nonetheless, both Kim and college officials said they are still ready to move forward with free tuition next semester.

“I have full confidence that we’re going to figure out this MOU, I have no question in my mind,” Selby said. “It’s in everybody’s interest.”

The effort gained steam in November when San Francisco voters approved a luxury property tax that Kim placed on the ballot and promised to spend on free tuition.

Jeff Hamilton, a spokesperson for City College, said continuing students are encouraged to enroll in courses May 3 and new students May 24.

“We’re moving full-steam ahead,” Hamilton said. “We will have a fall implementation of Free City.”

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