Concerns arise due to lack of planning, vetting process

Lack of clarity halts funding

By Editorial Board

Assembly Bill 19 was written to pay tuition fees for first-year college students coming from low-income backgrounds. But funds for the bill have yet to be secured.

The bill would establish that California Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley be responsible for administering and allotting funds to each community college that meets the specified requirements.

The Department of Financial Bill Analysis opposed the Oct. 3 proposal because, in AB19, students are not required to provide proof of income to qualify for free tuition.

Many legislators are against AB19 because under Proposition 98, colleges are guaranteed money from California’s general fund. But the new proposal does not explain a way to return those funds to the state.

AB19 offers free college tuition to community college students for one year without the same vetting process as financial aid or other fee waivers.

Planning to provide free tuition for the thousands of students throughout the 114 California community colleges is an abrupt step toward financially supporting students with underprivileged backgrounds.

As of now, the plan fails to determine who those students lacking resources really are.

The lack of qualification requirements is inconsistent with the state administrators’ approach to offering financial aid and puts an undue burden on state residents.

Assembly member Miguel Santiago proposed the bill and Governor Jerry Brown signed AB19, the California College Promise, but a signature is merely ink scribbled in vain when the funds are nonexistent.

In order to successfully reach a goal with AB19, there must be realistic objectives toward helping the most vulnerable students.

When considering the success rate of application-based programs like the Richmond Promise, a college scholarship created for Richmond residents, trying to implement a proposal that doesn’t have the vital piece (cha-ching) secured, seems fruitless.

Adjusting AB19 to require an application, like the Richmond Promise scholarship does, will weed out opportunistic students looking to make a quick buck from financial aid and pulling essential money from the general fund.

Though AB19 doesn’t require proof of income, programs like the Board of Governors (BOG) Fee Waiver already cover tuition for qualifying students.

Over the 2015-16 calendar year, community colleges served approximately 2.1 million students and roughly half of those students qualified for BOG Fee Waiver, according to the Department of Financial Bill Analysis.

Tuition for community colleges in California, Contra Costa College included, is $46 per semester unit, which can be projected to $1,100 annually for tuition for students taking 12 units per semester.

The Chancellor’s Office is working to ensure that funding will be provided to support AB19 in the 2018-19 California budget.

If the goal is to increase community college enrollment, allocating funds must be a priority, or legislators must reform the bill in its entirety.

Without administrative effort to find funding for something millions of Californians support, tuition-free college will disappear like the dream many believed it to be.