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Deal reached to make City College tuition free for SF residents

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Students walk through City College of San Francisco’s Ocean Campus on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (Steven Ho/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Thousands of students will begin attending City College of San Francisco for free next semester under an agreement reached Friday after months of political wrangling.

Mayor Ed Lee agreed to spend $5.4 million on free tuition for San Francisco residents as well as books for low-income students in the upcoming school year. The funding is enough to cover tuition for current students while allowing for a 20 percent increase in enrollment.

The college has struggled in recent years, losing a third of its students during its accreditation crisis, but could turn a corner under the free-tuition program after having its accreditation renewed last month.

Lee agreed to the deal late last week after months of back-and-forth with members of the Board of Supervisors, college officials and advocates who wanted the mayor to spend $9 million on the effort in the coming semester.

The initial $9 million estimate included free tuition for international students and covered $1,000 worth of books and other school expenses for low-income students.

Under the agreement, international students will not receive free tuition and grants for low-income students were reduced to $500 for full-time students and $200 for part-time students. Free tuition also only applies to city residents who have lived in California for at least a year.

Supervisor Jane Kim, who has led the effort for a free City College, praised the deal Sunday but noted she would like to see the funding increase in future years to cover more expenses for low-income students.

“We’re making City College free for all San Francisco residents, and that’s really exciting,” Kim said. “This is just the beginning of our free City College program.”
The agreement is $1.1 million more a year than Lee said he would spend on the effort in December, when he committed just $4.25 million a year.

Overall, the mayor committed to spend $5.4 million in each of the next two fiscal years, which includes $2.1 million for tuition and $3.3 million for student expenses.

“We found an economic plan that would make City College accessible to our city residents and give additional support to those students struggling the most,” Lee said.

In November, voters approved a proposed tax on the sale of multimillion properties that Kim placed on the ballot and promised to spend on CCSF. However, the mayor took a portion of the revenues to spend on other priorities like homeless services.
Tom Temprano, a member of the CCSF Board of Trustees, said he was relieved over news of the agreement.

“It’s important that we’re able to honor the will of the voters and hopefully have this up and running by this fall,” Temprano said. “We can’t wait to do that, and this obviously is going to be a huge and important tool for us to restore our enrollment.”

In an interview last Monday, Interim Chancellor Susan Lamb said the proposal needed to be finished within the next couple days for the college to successfully roll out free tuition by Fall 2017.

Lamb had given a Jan. 15 deadline to finish the plan to the Board of Supervisors, which agreed to allocate $9 million for the effort but does not have the spending power of the mayor.

Student registration begins in March and the school needs to reprogram its computer systems to include the eligibility requirements for free tuition, which Lamb said could take weeks.

In a statement Sunday, Lamb said she hopes the effort will boost enrollment this fall.

Not everybody was satisfied by the deal. Alisa Messer, political director at the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, called the deal a victory but said the faculty union is disappointed with the spending on books.

“These grants are not even enough to buy a chemistry textbook,” said Messer.

Hydra Mendoza-McDonnell, an advisor to the mayor on education who led the discussions, said the program is still meaningful.

“I really don’t think that we watered this down so much so that this is not a significant program,” she said.

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