San Mateo County leader calls for free community college program like SF’s

Supervisor David Canepa suggests partnership similar to Free City program

Full-time students facing steep housing costs in the Bay Area should not have to pay to attend classes at San Mateo County Community College, according to a county supervisor.

In a letter sent last week to the college district’s board President Maurice Goodman, San Mateo County Supervisor David J. Canepa advocated free tuition for first-time, full-time students for two years. Canepa reminded the board that students used to be able to attend community college at no cost, and urged a return to the old system.

“Until 1985, tuition was free at all 115 community colleges in the state but now costs nearly $1,400 a year for full-time students,” Canepa said. The cost is burdensome for students in the Bay Area, who face the state’s highest housing costs, he said. “The stories about students sleeping in their cars and struggling to pay for food are heartbreaking. The resources exist to give these young adults a fair shot to get an education, now we just need the political will to make it a reality.”

San Mateo Community College district schools currently charge their students $46 per unit.

Some students who aren’t receiving the state’s tuition waiver for low-income students benefit from the Promise program, which provides free tuition and other services for one year. The Promise program became law in 2017 with the passage of Assembly Bill 19.

In the May 2 letter to Goodman, Canepa noted that an amendment to the program giving community colleges $46 million to spend in a variety of ways neglected the program’s purpose to provide tuition to students. He noted that schools are at liberty to either waive fees or expand student programs while continuing to charge students.

Canepa proposed that San Mateo County and the college district form a partnership similar to the one between San Francisco County and the City College of San Francisco, where free tuition is provided for four semesters to residents.

The San Francisco program has been active since voters approved it in 2016; voters will decide on whether to extend it for 10 more years on the November 2019 ballot. Under the program, the city of San Francisco will pay $5.4 million to cover the $46 per credit fee usually paid by students as well as $250 to students who already receive a state-funded fee waiver.

When asked whether he had been considering increasing the number of students eligible for waived tuition, Goodman replied that the board was inhibited by a lack of funding.

“We would need a lift from county leaders and corporate partners to expand the Promise program, which would be great because having more educated people in San Mateo County would build our workforce,” he said.

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