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San Francisco Announces Deal for Tuition-Free Community College

Low-income students, who already receive state-funded fee waivers, will also receive grants to cover non-tuition expenses.
Image: Clouds hover over the skyline during a break in the weather in San Francisco.
Clouds hover over the skyline during a break in the weather in San Francisco.Eric Risberg / AP

San Francisco is expected to be the first city in the United States to offer free community college to its residents regardless of income under a deal announced Monday by Mayor Ed Lee and San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim.

Under the deal, the city will guarantee nearly $5.4 million annually to the City College of San Francisco, a public, two-year community college, to pay for the $46-per-credit tuition fees of students. The funding will apply to California residents who have lived in San Francisco for at least one year and a day and is expected to start next fall. More than 28,000 students stand to benefit from this proposal, according to Kim.

“As a child of working-class immigrants, I know first-hand the importance of a college education and the struggles to pay for it,” Lee said in a statement. “Working together, we found an economic plan that would make City College accessible to our city residents and give additional support to those students struggling the most. This commitment will provide our residents the opportunity to attend college, continue to learn and create better lives for themselves. This is an investment in our youth, in our city and in our future."

The plan is funded through a real estate transfer tax increase approved by San Francisco voters last November. Proposition W, which passed with 61.93 percent of the vote, raised the tax by .25 percent for commercial and real estate properties sold at $5 million or more. The increase is expected to raise an average of $44 million annually in new revenue, according to Kim, who proposed the measure and its funding proposal.

The program will also provide a grant to low-income students to cover extra costs. Full-time low-income students, who already receive a state-funded fee waiver, will receive a $500 annual grant, according to NBC Bay Area. Part-time students will receive $200. According to City College's 2016-2017 Student Expense Budget, books, supplies, and transportation can cost up to $1,450 per semester.

“This measure is going to open so many doors for the members of the San Francisco community, and I hope other colleges and cities soon follow in our footsteps.”

“I am ecstatic that those who couldn't previously afford it, or those who had to struggle with one of the many choices of, for example, school versus good nutrition or housing, now have the option to attend classes for free,” Alexandria Covert-Miranda, a student at City College, told NBC News. “This measure is going to open so many doors for the members of the San Francisco community, and I hope other colleges and cities soon follow in our footsteps.”

City College has seen a decline in enrollment over the years due to an accreditation crisis but had its accreditation renewed last month, according to NBC Bay Area. City College officials hope this new plan will reverse this trend and ultimately increase enrollment.

Proponents of tuition-free colleges argue that these proposals will expand access to education — especially for low-income students — as well as reducing the burden many students have of paying off student loans after graduation. According to Kim, the plan expands access to the tools necessary to qualify for better-paying jobs.

"Making City College free is going to provide greater opportunities for more San Franciscans to enter into the middle class and more San Franciscans to stay in the middle class if they currently are," she said during press conference.

The plan comes amid a growing movement to address the problems of high college tuition and rising student debt. Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a similar proposal to make college tuition-free across the state to New Yorkers making up to $125,000 per year. In 2015, then President Barack Obama also called for making at least two years of college education free.

The City College of San Francisco's board of trustees is expected to vote on the plan on Thursday.

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