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‘Huge’ enrollment boost evident in first semester of free CCSF

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Enrollment at City College of San Francisco is up across the board, and a majority of new students live in The City. (Daniel Kim/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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In its first semester of offering free tuition to San Francisco residents, City College of San Francisco is seeing an overall spike in enrollment and has attracted at least 6,450 new students into its classrooms.

Enrollment is up for the first time in nearly a decade in the fall semesters at CCSF, where a recent census placed the student headcount at 45,482 this semester — an 11 percent spike from this time last year.

But the largest increase reflected by the census is the number of students attending the community college for the first time who are San Francisco residents, and thus qualify for tuition waivers under the Free City College Program, which rolled out in its pilot stage this semester.

According to the census, a total of 6,450 new students taking credit courses are enrolled at CCSF, up from 4,800 new students in the fall of 2016. A majority of these new students — 4,600 — are San Francisco residents — a 51 percent increase from last fall, when just 3,050 students attending CCSF for the first time were also living in The City.

“That percentage is huge. That is the number that really shows the impact of Free City,” said Tim Killikelly, president of the CCSF faculty union AFT 2121. “Those are people who are new, who [may have been] attracted by Free City … You see a huge difference between people living in and outside of The City — and that’s a much bigger number the overall college numbers.”

In contrast, the college saw an enrollment of just 100 students new to CCSF who are not living in The City. Supporters of the tuition-free program said that the data points to its success.

“If you look at those [new students] living outside of San Francisco, it’s only 100 up. That leads me to believe that the fact that Free City exists, coupled with awesome the Free City campaign we have been running over last four months or so has been [working],” CCSF Board of Trustees President Thea Selby said.

Enrollment plummeted at CCSF, from 67,485 students in fall of 2008 to 36,453 in fall of 2016, and since the school nearly lost its accreditation in 2012, the college’s administrators have scrambled to not only keep its credentials, but also its reputation, intact.

This semester, 4,538 more students turned out for classes at the once-embattled college, where enrollment hovered at 40,944 students last fall.

The dark cloud cast over CCSF in the midst of its accreditation crisis five years ago — during which it also lost some $35 million in state funding — may be letting up, but questions about the program’s sustainability remain. State funding is tied to the number of students who attend CCSF.

Students study in the cafeteria at CCSF’s Ocean Campus on Monday, Sept.18, 2017. (Daniel Kim/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The college does not yet have an official count of students who are signed up with the Free City program, and that number is used to calculate the funding needed to support the program in the long-term.

“We don’t know the answer yet in terms of what the price tag is — we haven’t invoiced The City and we don’t have an official number yet that we are [calculating] for The City for reimbursement,” CCSF spokesperson Jeff Hamilton said. “We are still trying to figure out what’s an honest number without hyping it and without underestimating the impact of the program.”

Mayor Ed Lee agreed to spend $5.5 million a year on Free City over the next two years, though Supervisor Jane Kim and other advocates initially called for more. The program is funded through a real-estate transfer tax increase on the November 2016 ballot. The tax has since generated $27 million, according to Kim.

Still, Kim voiced concerns about funding the program adequately. City and college officials only provided funding for a 20 percent growth in the number of San Francisco residents enrolled in credit courses, and the upward enrollment trend is expected to continue.

“We built in a 20 percent cushion to make sure that this first year would be covered adequately. But if The City is sincere about making this initiative a permanent program, which of course I believe we should, then it’s time to put your money where your mouth is and fund this program, “ said Kim, who in July secured $1 million “in order to seed a reserve fund.”

“But this reserve fund can’t grow without additional investment,” Kim added.

While CCSF officials agree that more funding will be needed, they are optimistic about the program’s sustainability.

The state Legislature on Sept. 13 passed a bill that would make attending community colleges throughout the state free throughout first year. That bill is awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.

“That will help us locally, because the money we will be saving on first-year students will go towards students who do not qualify under the state legislation,” CCSF Trustee Alex Randolph said.

Selby said that 70 percent of CCSF’s credit students are Board of Governors [BOG] waiver recipients, meaning the state already foots the tuition for California residents attending community colleges. Free City, she said, is specifically geared at San Francisco residents and supplements where the state falls short.

“The mayor’s funding is the last funding that comes along,” Selby said. “I’m not concerned that we will have problems with money.”

The CCSF Board of Trustees is set to discuss the enrollment growth at its meeting Thursday.

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