City College of San Francisco to offer free tuition for some

A deal announced by Supervisor Jane Kim and Mayor Ed Lee today will make San Francisco the first city in the nation to make community college free to all city residents.

The city today committed to $5.4 million in annual funding for the next two years to cover the costs of City College of San Francisco tuition for students who are San Francisco residents, starting this fall.

The funding will also cover $500 annual grants for low-income full-time students who currently qualify for a fee waiver to use for books, transportation and other education expenses and $200 annual grants for low-income part-time students.

The city will also provide one-time funding of $500,000 to help City College develop and implement the plan.

Lee today praised the plan, which was first proposed by Kim last year, as "bold and visionary."

"Let me tell you, when our city works together, we can accomplish great things," he said.

While the plan to subsidize community college tuition has the backing of the Board of Supervisors and voters, who approved a real estate transfer tax in November that Kim put forward to help pay for the City College plan, it very nearly didn't happen in time for the coming school year.

After a sales tax measure intended to fund homeless services and transportation improvements that was also on the November ballot failed, Lee introduced a budget realignment plan that proposed to hold back some of the real estate transfer tax funds.

Today's deal was announced after weeks of talks involving the mayor's office, Kim, City College and labor representatives, among others.

Making community college free will help the city address a growing income gap by helping more people get good paying jobs, Kim said. She cited figures estimating that by 2020, 70 percent of all jobs in the United States will require some kind of secondary education.

"Making City College free is going to provide opportunities for more San Franciscans to enter into the middle class and for more San Franciscans to stay in the middle class if they already are there," Kim said.

While the money will not directly bring in new funds, the subsidy is expected to help increase enrollment at City College, which has seen declining student numbers in the wake of a recent accreditation crisis.   

The college's accreditation was confirmed last month, but the community college board has been forced to consider budget cuts to deal with the drop in enrollment and the loss of other funding.

Interim Chancellor Susan Lamb today said there are currently "a lot of empty seats" available for those interested in earning a degree or certification.

"We have a schedule that was basically built for about 85,000 students, and we want students to come back," Lamb said. "Come back and give us a try."

The City College board is expected to vote on the plan Thursday.

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