Students walk on campus at City College of San Francisco. (Emma Marie Chiang/2018 Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Struggling community college students could get a helping hand

State legislation introduced Thursday aims to keep community college students experiencing unforeseen hardships enrolled and in the classroom by offering a financial cushion to weather tough times.

AB 943, also referred to as the Emergency Aid for Community College Students Act, would allocate $25,000 in existing state funding per campus for eligible students facing unexpected financial emergencies, such as medical expenses or childcare.

“The price of education goes well beyond tuition; books, housing and health care costs can be real burdens,” said Assemblymember David Chiu, who authored the bill, adding that colleges can “opt-in” to the program.

With state funding tied to student enrollment, it is also a means for community colleges to avoid losing students permanently from the system, according to Chiu.

SEE RELATED: SF education leaders push for resources for homeless students

Chiu has made two previous attempts to win approval for emergency grants legislation. “We are hoping the third time’s the charm,” he said. He noted that prior pushback was a “question of priorities,” and that newly instated Gov. Gavin Newsom has awakened new political will for increased funding for higher education.

Unlike other tuition-based financial aid, which is generally dispersed at the start of the semester, the emergency grants would be accessible at any time throughout.

A survey of nearly 100,000 community college students by the Center for Community College Student Engagement found one in five students are unable to afford “one more dollar in unexpected costs,” with 47 percent of those surveyed citing financial difficulties as a reason for dropping out.

Since 2010, three community colleges have implemented privately funded emergency aid programs — Pasadena City College, Grossmont Community College, and Cuyamaca Community College.

Chiu said the aid is badly needed, citing a 2018 study of 31 community colleges across the country that identified 42 percent of students as being food insecure, nearly 50 percent as housing insecure, and 12 percent as homeless.

“The last statistic we are hearing across the state is that more than one in 10 students in the California State University and Community College systems are homeless,” said Chiu. “They are sleeping in their cars, doubling up on friend’s couches, they are taking showers in the school gyms.”

Homelessness and food insecurity are also issues among City College of San Francisco’s students, said Board of Trustees President Alex Randolph.

“Our students are struggling. There’s more to education than just the registration fees and tuition,” said Randolph, who said he almost dropped out of community college as a student due to financial hardships. “Thanks to someone at the college, I was able to get a private emergency loan. I think it’s very important for us to be able to provide these types of grants to our students.”

SEE RELATED: City College of San Francisco opens free food market for students in need

In November 2017, City College of San Francisco leaders passed a resolution prioritizing ending food and housing insecurities among transitional age youth, who make up close to 44 percent of City College’s student population.

Last month, the college launched a free food market for students that will operate on a weekly basis.

Randolph said that the college already has in place a process to give financial resources to students through its Student Equity program. The college funds loans for textbooks and laptops, among other things.

“This will probably backfill or help subsidize [our program],” said Randolph, about the proposed legislation.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.comeducationPolitics

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