In sharing his vision of universal health care and free higher education for all Americans, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday praised City College of San Francisco’s move to make tuition free for San Francisco residents as “a model for the United States of America.”
“Because [don’t] you think that young people and working class people all over this country are not asking their local leaders, ‘How come in San Francisco they are making college tuition free, why don’t you it in our community?’” said Sanders, addressing students, faculty and CCSF leaders who embarked on their first semester of tuition-free courses in August.
Enrollment at the community college has soared since the Free City College program rolled out in its pilot stage, attracting at least 6,450 new students this fall who have signed up for credit courses. The program is funded by a real-estate transfer tax passed last November — an effort led by San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim.
“CSSF has shown that when people get involved politically, it makes a difference,” said Sanders. “Our job is to put together an agenda that speaks to needs of working people [and] to elect officials that have the guts to fight and implement that agenda. You have increased participant enrollment for San Francisco residents by 51 percent.”
Students and teachers at CCSF say that they are already feeling that difference.
“I’ve been here for two years and just the energy is different, in the classroom and behind the scenes,” said 30-year-old CCSF sophomore Lauren Haggins.
Following an accreditation crisis in 2012 that contributed to major cuts in classes and a plummet in enrollment, an English teacher who declined to give her name but stood in line to hear “the political legend” speak, said that teachers at the college feel that their “jobs make sense again.”
The Vermont senator and former presidential hopeful visited San Francisco on Friday to promote his recently introduced single-payer Medicare for all plan at a nurses’ rally at Yerba Buena Gardens.
Hours later, at CCSF’s Ocean Campus at 50 Phelan Ave., Sanders was met by an enthused crowd.
“I’m really excited to hear him speak on what CCSF is doing locally in response to what could be a nationwide effort — investing in education,” said 25-year-old CCSF freshman Shirley Acuna.
Some 1,500 initially signed up to hear Sanders speak, exceeding the college’s seating capacity. CCSF spokesperson Jeff Hamilton said that 750 people received tickets to the event and watched Sanders from within the Diego Rivera Theater, two overflow rooms and a courtyard where speakers had been set up.
Following speeches by CCSF, San Francisco and student leaders, Sanders addressed federal cuts by President Donald Trump in health care, education, environmental protections and legal protections afforded to undocumented immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“We are in a very pivotal moment in American history,” Sanders said. “If there is anything positive we can say about Donald Trump — and there is not much — it is that he has made it very clear what the stakes are when we talk about the future of this country.”
Deeming it an “international embarrassment” that students “who want a higher education and are unable to get it” because “their family lacks the money,” Sanders praised CCSF. “Instead of denying people what they are entitled to, you are giving people exactly what they need,” he said.
San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim greets Senator Bernie Sanders with a hug during a rally held to celebrate free community college tuition for San Francisco residents at City College of San Francisco Friday, September 22, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)