Supervisor Jane Kim is supporting a push by City College of San Francisco leaders to get The City to cover summer tuition under the Free City program, which for the last two semesters has paid for San Francisco residents’ registration fees.
“I am working behind the scenes to see it continue and [Proposition W] certainly raised enough revenue to pay for it,” said Kim, who is also candidate for mayor in the June elections. Kim said that her office “could not get the Mayor’s Office to commit to Free City beyond the fall and spring semester for two years” as part of a compromise over funding.
Last year, Kim spearheaded a ballot measure raising the transfer tax on properties sold for more than $5 million, which will bring in some $45 million annually to The City, and struck a deal with then-Mayor Ed Lee that allocated some $11.2 million to pay for two years of the Free City program.
City College leaders signed a contract with The City at that time that did not set aside funds for the summer, but are now worried about the impact that reverting to charging students $46 per unit from June through August could have on enrollment numbers.
“We know that cost is a factor in education, especially in community colleges, where the student population is generally lower income than at four-year,” said CCSF Trustee John Rizzo, adding that charging students for the summer “will deter people from coming to college not just for summer but for the fall as well.”
Since its implementation in Fall 2017, the Free City program has been credited with an enrollment surge at the college, which stood to lose its accreditation just four years ago. In the first semester of Free City, some 6,500 new students signed up, and enrollment increased by nearly 11 percent over the previous year.
Despite Free City’s apparent success, disputes have emerged over how much the program should be costing The City.
The college has made four attempts since December to bill The City for the program, and submitted an invoice in February that placed the costs of running the program at $4.1 million. However, that invoice and two previous ones were sent back by the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and Their Families, which is tasked with paying out the Free City funding, with a request for additional student enrollment data.
At issue was the decision by CCSF Chancellor Mark Rocha, when faced with an influx of enrollment that overwhelmed the college’s online registration systems, to exempt incoming student from an online financial aid process that determined whether they were eligible for other forms of assistance, such as BOG waivers.
This decision placed the college in technical violation of a memorandum of understanding that designates Free City as a “last dollar program” and requires CCSF to find other avenues to cover students’ enrollment fees before accessing the city funds.
City College submitted a revised invoice on April 5 for $2,756,354, and the City has a month from that date to vet it.
Separately, Rocha also made a request for additional funding for the summer semester last week that was denied. However, with enrollment for the summer semester for continuing students opening this week, class schedule brochures sent out in the mail advertise the Free City program.
CCSF spokesperson Jeff Hamilton said CCSF “had hoped that Free City would be extended through Summer Semester 2018,” adding that the college has indicated on it’s website that Free City currently only applies to the fall and spring semesters, and also notified students of this via email on April 6.
While it is unclear how much funding would be needed to cover the summer semester, Hamilton said that early estimates place the cost at $2 million. He added that CCSF had made efforts to fund the program using other sources and “will continue to look for other sources of revenue.”
“In the meantime we are reaching out to summer students with existing sources of financial aid,” he said.
Kim and the college’s leadership argue that the money to cover summer tuition is there.
Ivy Lee, Kim’s legislative aide, said the supervisor “will be reaching out and talking to” Mayor Mark Farrell and rest of her colleagues on the board about the issue.
“The cost of free city has been less for the first two semesters than the dollar amount that they signed on to. They could fund summer and still stay within the budget that they agreed on,” Rizzo said. “You can’t have a program that says free tuition, then start and stop it.”
CCSF Trustee Rafael Mandelman said that, should funding not be granted for this summer, he is hopeful that “The City’s next mayor” will allocate funding for the summer 2019 semester. He added that the college’s leadership this week will be discussing changes to its online registration process to facilitate enrollment.
But those footing the bill for the program are adamant that City College adhere to the agreed upon terms.
A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office said City College has not submitted an official “proposal for a summer program or attached any funding” and added that it “has yet to collect the data needed for the City to legally disburse funding for the Free City College Program this fiscal year.”
DCYF spokesperson Dori Caminong said the department is “responsible for implementing the MOU as it’s written and signed.”