There are many young people in this state — mostly those who would be the first in their family to attend college — who make the decision to sit college out. They may not be quite ready for a four-year institution or they recognize they would likely benefit from an additional semester of math, science or language arts before getting started. More often than not, these are kids whose families can’t afford college. Thus, the notion that “I’m not ready” becomes “I’m not sure” leading to “I’m not college material.” And they sit it out.
They become the underemployed, the unemployed and they’re tucked among those 1 million college-educated workers we all agree the state needs to sustain our workforce and competitive advantage.
In 2015, former President Barack Obama proposed two years of tuition-free community college for eligible students. Though Congress never passed a law, states and local community college districts around the nation implemented “promise” programs, many of them modeled after Tennessee Promise, which provides two years, tuition-free, to certain community or technical college students.
Here in California, Long Beach Promise gives eligible students tuition for a year. Sixty-percent of Tennessee Promise recipients are the first in their family to go to college, and 70 percent are from low-income families.
The Long Beach Promise has seen increases in the number and percentage of students across all ethnic groups who have successfully completed coursework necessary to transfer to a four-year program.
Last year, San Francisco made community college free for all residents, and enrollment has increased dramatically.
Assembly Bill 19 would waive fees for first-time community college students across California for a full year. We believe it will increase enrollment and, almost as important, will entice the existing base of first-time students to take a full course load.
It can also be a catalyst to increase the number of students participating in Pathways programs already in place. Many California community college students, roughly a 250,000, are generally only one course short of meeting the 12-unit qualifying threshold of this measure.
If we enroll more kids in community college, we’ll graduate more kids from community college.
In a study of the 1.9 million students who began postsecondary study in 2006, of the students who attended exclusively full time, 76 percent completed a degree, and 80 percent either completed or were still enrolled by 2012.
Of those attending exclusively part-time, 21 percent completed a degree, and 32 percent either completed or were still enrolled six years later.
The bill passed both houses of the Legislature with bipartisan support because members of both parties understand the incentive tuition-free college gives students, especially first-generation college attendees. Now, it awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.
We must change the narrative for California high school students regarding their college prospects. We’re sending those who want to go to college but who are on the fence for a variety of reasons an important message: There’s a seat for you.
You are college material. Let’s hope the governor agrees.
California State Assemblymembers Miguel Santiago and David Chiu are the joint authors of AB 19 and represent Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively.