Mayor Ed Lee is applauded as he approaches the podium during a Monday news conference at City Hall announcing a deal to make City College of San Francisco free for all city residents. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Education costs shouldn’t be a barrier to self-improvement

As a child of working-class immigrants, I have experienced the pressures of paying for college, and I’ve always stressed that the cost of education should not be a barrier to improving one’s life standing.

That is why I’m so happy with our announcement Monday that thousands of local residents will receive free tuition from the City College of San Francisco. We will be the first city in the nation with a program that not only offers free tuition for residents, but also offers grants to our neediest students. At a time when the political rhetoric is punishing those who are less fortunate, San Francisco has again united around our values and taken the national lead on this important issue of equality.

Last year, I called for a CCSF funding plan that was fiscally responsible and fits within our city budget, while also making higher education accessible to every San Franciscan. This is an investment in our future and the foundation of the long-term economic health of our city.

By providing $5.4 million annually, we’ll ensure that California students who live in San Francisco can learn at a respected educational institution without the burden of accruing potentially harmful debt. The funding will not only provide free tuition, but will also include a $500 grant for low-income students to use on books, transportation, supplies and health fees. There will be a $200 grant for low-income residents who are part-time students at the school as well. The plan is expected to be implemented in time for the fall semester this year.

For the past three decades, the promise of free tuition at CCSF has been discussed, often with frustrating results. When California established its educational master plan in 1960, the state stipulated making college free for all, but students at CCSF have been paying fees since 1983.

This program will be the culmination of the hard work and tireless advocacy from The City’s many backers of accessible education and proves that we will honor the past promises that have been forgotten over the years. San Francisco should be proud to be on the forefront of a national movement to provide free education at local community colleges.

This program is a particularly meaningful contribution to CCSF, with the funding injection helping the college’s plans to increase enrollment by 20 percent, after years of dipping student numbers due to the institution’s rigorous re-accreditation process. We anticipate that the school will quickly rebound, as CCSF is one of the premiere community colleges in the nation, offering courses in more than 50 academic programs and more than 100 occupational disciplines. Students have a clear path forward upon completion of their two-year program at CCSF, as most credits meet the general education requirements for transfer to four-year colleges and universities.

It’s difficult to understate how important an education from CCSF is for local students. According to the U.S. Labor Bureau, students with a two-year Associates Degree, like the kind offered by CCSF, earn $6,240 more annually than citizens with only a high school diploma. Degrees are increasingly more essential in these changing times, too. By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school, according to a Georgetown University report.

Funding CCSF is not merely an investment in our city’s local educational system, but one that makes a real stake in the future of San Francisco. We are empowering our young residents to seek out educational opportunities with the expectation that they’ll take advantage of this program to pursue innovative and productive careers that will strength The City’s core.

The program is also an important reminder that every resident in San Francisco should benefit from The City’s economic prosperity. Attending college can be the great equalizer, yet many San Franciscans have been stymied from realizing this due to a lack of resources. San Francisco’s continued growth has driven up the cost of living, and citizens shouldn’t have to choose between paying rent and attending school. I know firsthand how life-changing a helpful assist can be when it comes to reaching one’s educational needs.

San Francisco is a city made famous for its efforts of inclusion and for championing residents of all kinds, regardless of gender, ethnicity or economic standing. We want the best for all who call this city home, and this program at CCSF is a meaningful step toward achieving that goal.

Edwin M. Lee is the mayor of San Francisco.

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