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Gov. Newsom Wants Free Community College; San Diego Colleges Want To Make It Truly Free

A Palomar College sign is shown, Jan. 4, 2019.

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: A Palomar College sign is shown, Jan. 4, 2019.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal Thursday is expected to include $40 million to offer a second year of community college free to first-time, full-time students. The state already agreed to cover their first year under Gov. Jerry Brown.

Local college administrators are applauding the move, and they say they’ll cover textbooks and other costs to make an associate’s degree truly free in San Diego County if Newsom’s plan goes through.

“Students can’t be successful if they’re hungry,” said Palomar College President Joi Lin Blake. “They can’t be successful if they’re living in their car. They can’t be successful if they don’t have their textbooks.”

Blake has been fundraising to expand free tuition at Palomar. In 2016, state lawmakers approved the California Promise to fund a year of tuition for first-time, full-time community college students.

The San Diego Community College District has already begun enrolling students with a promise of two years free. It’s raised $1 million to fund that promise.

“We decided as a society that high school should be free because high school was the entry point to the job market, and to the middle class and success,” said SDCCD Chancellor Constance Carroll. “We’re at a point now where community colleges have risen to that same level, so I can’t underscore enough the importance of supporting students at this level of higher education.”

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Carroll and Blake said they would shift their fundraising efforts to help students pay for textbooks if the governor’s plan is approved. Blake said full-time students at Palomar can pay thousands of dollars for textbooks each semester.

Carroll said the district would need $2 million to $3 million to cover the cost of textbooks for its 2,000 Promise students, and she said the governor’s proposal would also allow her to expand free tuition to people who are not first-time students, as required under the state plan.

The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District and Southwestern College, too, are applauding the proposal.

“This potential new funding would allow us and our dedicated foundation members to raise money for scholarships and other financial support for our students,” said Southwestern College President Kindred Murillo. “We know that tuition is not the greatest barrier to earning a degree. Living expenses, transportation, food and housing are the economic barriers we’re hoping to address.”

Both the governor’s budget proposal and a companion bill authorizing the plan need to pass the legislature. The bill’s co-author, Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, said he’s hopeful they will.

A Public Policy Institute of California survey showed more than half of respondents consider free community college a high priority for the state.

“We’re the fifth-largest economy now in the world,” Santiago said. “In order for us to continue to grow our economy, to have a skilled workforce, you need an educated people.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to include free community college tuition in his budget proposal Thursday. Local community colleges say they'll work to cover remaining costs such as textbooks if his plan passes.

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