'Tuition-Free Bachelor’s Degrees’ considered in California | Inquirer

‘Tuition-Free Bachelor’s Degrees’ proposed in California

AB2093 would allow the state's 116 community colleges to forgive tuition for low-income students
/ 09:13 PM March 02, 2024

While the world’s largest higher education system – California’s community colleges – continues to expand its curriculum, lawmakers are expanding ways for students to access it.

At a recent press conference at East Los Angeles College, local state Assembly representative Miguel Santiago presented the latest of the “California College Promise” measures he has initiated.

This one, AB2093, the “Tuition-Free Bachelor’s Degrees,” would allow the state’s 116 community colleges to forgive tuition and fees for low-income, first-time, full-time California resident students all the way as they pursue a four-year degree.


To help students earn degrees is to help ensure equal opportunities for all, including low-income and underrepresented students. Photo from Ethnic Media Services

Earlier iterations of Santiago’s “Promise” programs have provided this kind of support for students’ first year of community college (AB19, 2017), then their second year (AB2, 2019), and boosted student access in other ways, such as giving disabled students more time to complete their degrees via lower per-semester course load requirements to maintain eligibility.

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Alberto Roman, president of the host college campus in Monterey Park (Los Angeles County), opened the presentation by touting new BA programs in community colleges that will help meet the demand for health care professionals.

To help students earn these degrees, he said, is to help ensure equal opportunities for all, including low-income and underrepresented students.

Community colleges have long offered two-year “Associate of Arts” degrees – AAs – and a pathway to four-year baccalaureate (BA) programs offered by the California State University (CSU) or University of California (UC) systems.


But dozens of the 116 accredited community colleges up and down the state now also offer a variety of BA programs, such as four within the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), in biotech, aeronautics, dental hygiene and respiratory therapy.

With those who choose not to go to college citing the cost as a primary reason for the decision, Santiago said, “We’re moving students out of systemic poverty, one student at a time.”

Santiago was LACCD board president prior to being elected to the state Assembly in 2014 and is currently challenging incumbent Kevin De Leon for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. He addressed the gathering in both English and Spanish.


“We’re doing (President Joe) Biden one better,” he said, referring to the president’s dogged accumulation of loan forgiveness victories.

The day before, in Culver City (Los Angeles County), Biden had announced canceling $1.2 billion in debt for 153,000 people who had been paying off loans of $10,000 or less for a decade or more. The move brings the total forgiven under his administration to $138 billion for almost 4 million Americans, despite conservative-leaning court and Congressional Republican opposition to his original plans to forgive more than $400 billion of student debt.

He’s done so by such things as addressing failures in the current system to deliver on promises to students pursuing careers in public service, for instance, teachers, first responders and government workers, and by helping people defrauded by schools that closed or otherwise cheated them.

AB2093, co-authored by Santiago and Assembly colleague Sabrina Cervantes of Riverside County, allows the state’s community college districts some discretion in how they use the funding, if they accept it at all.

For example, instead of waiving tuition fees up front, some might choose to pay back fees after the coursework is completed.

Or schools could choose to provide help with other student costs such as transportation, child care and books, or fund college preparedness programs, current LACCD board president Nichelle Henderson said.

So far, she said, California College Promise has helped nearly 150,000 students, including 36,000 in LACCD.

The funds already exist within the community college system, Santiago stated. The measure is simply an exercise in funding those who need it most, he said, “the students!”

Besides, James McKeever, AFT 1521 Faculty Guild president said, given the increasing need for workers with bachelor’s degrees and the decreasing percentage of the workforce that has one, and the finding that 95% of Californians who’ve earned BAs at community colleges stay in their communities, the state will soon enough recoup its investments in education via taxes paid by those higher-earning workers.

He recalled a time when higher education in California truly was free.

But, he said, public universities began charging tuition soon after the 1947 Mendez v. Westminster ruling in California, which said Latino students were being discriminated against under the pretext of language differences. The ruling set a precedent for the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling ending school segregation nationwide.

The problem, McKeever said, is that the loan forgiveness programs only “kick the can down the road,” with the CSU system currently considering 30% tuition increases.

“Education is the most democratic thing we can do,” said Francisco Rodriguez, LACCD chancellor. And California College Promise students, he said, “earn degrees at a higher rate and transfer at a higher level and rate.”

“Report after report suggests that we have a shortage of baccalaureate degree earners in California. It’s the ticket out of poverty, the great equalizer.”

“An education fuels a strong economy,” Rodriguez said. “Education can make the difference between an individual participating in the economy or being left out on the margins.”

“Call your legislators!” Santiago urged.

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TAGS: California, college students, higher education, US-Featured
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