Two years of free community college may soon become a reality for 2.1 million students in California through Assembly Bill 2.

The measure is a more aggressive version of 2017’s Assembly Bill 19, or the California College Promise. That program dispersed $46 million to the state’s 114 community colleges with the option to utilize funds to cover the first year of tuition fees for all first-time, full-time students.

“It is better for the whole community because this will help get more people working, paying taxes, and buying stuff at stores.” — Lucy Ruiz, executive director for public and legislative relations for State Center Community College District

Gov. Gavin Newsom, fulfilling a campaign promise, has proposed free tuition for a second year for students who commit to a full load of courses for two years. The governor also is seeking $5 million for outreach encouraging students to attend community colleges.

AB 2 Would Be a Lifesaver

Having a second year of tuition paid for would make for a more memorable college experience, said Ana Venegas, a student at Fresno City College.

Venegas already had her first year of tuition covered by the Central Valley Promise. State Center Community College District started the program to encourage more high school graduates to enroll.

However, that program won’t help Venegas next fall. Enter AB 2.

It would save her more than $2,000,  Venegas said, and keep her from working long hours at McDonald’s.

“It would be very helpful,” Venegas said.

Fighting Against Income Inequality

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), the lead author of AB 2, said a free education is the best instrument in the fight against income inequality.

“We owe this effort to the students entering community college this year; we owe it to the economy of California — the fifth-largest in the world; and most importantly, we owe it to our children,” he said.

Whether community college is a stepping stone to four-year universities or to apprenticeships and workforce training programs, Santiago said, it is a key component of the state’s education framework and should be the cornerstone of a debt-free education.

Lucy Ruiz, executive director for public and legislative relations for SCCCD, said the bill would benefit everybody.

“It is better for the whole community because this will help get more people working, paying taxes, and buying stuff at stores,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said, however, that the bill would be more beneficial if it also covered tuition for older students and those returning.

How Much of An Impact Would AB 2 Have?

The average student attending one of SCCCD’s three community colleges pays nearly $5,000 over two years. That includes tuition, books and supplies, and parking permits, among other costs.

“We owe this effort to the students entering community college this year; we owe it to the economy of California — the fifth-largest in the world; and most importantly, we owe it to our children,” he said. — Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), the lead author of AB 2

The California College Promise granted SCCCD $25.6 million, which benefited nearly half of its 63,000-plus students.

The district has another 17,000 students that receive other forms of financial aid such as Cal and Pell grants.

SB 291 Proposes To Cover Non-Tuition Costs As Well

To help cover a community college student’s whole cost of attendance, Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) proposed Senate Bill 291.

“The true cost of attending college is clearly more than just tuition,” Leyva said. “It is critically important that our community colleges remain an affordable option for all students.”

In its first year, the bill would cost $250 million and steadily increase until hitting $1.5 billion in 2024.

In addition to California, there are nearly 20 other states offering tuition-free community colleges, and the list is growing.

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