The cost of college is undoubtedly a concern that plagues many families and many students throughout the state. In fact, tuition increases across California public institution makes attending a California college or universities at an all-time high. For many lower-income families, attending college seems out of the question due to concerns about affordability. But, in good news, there are many resources in place to make college affordable, and accessible. One such program is the recently implemented Free Tuition program for first time Contra Costa Community College students.
The Cost of Higher Education
The cost of higher education has been in the spotlight for decades. Increases in tuition, fees and other associated costs have brought college administrators into the spotlight to defend the increases. In fact, college faculty have been blamed for tuition increases due to excessive salaries. However, in Contra Costa County, the average faculty member earns about $45,000 a year.
Education costs have increased due to
- campus improvements
- longevity of grant driven programs
- increased accessibility to services
- improved housing and food on campus
- campus amenities
- increase in staff and administrators
and the basic principle of supply and demand. Back in 1950, only about 7% of the U.S. population completed a degree program. Today, about 33% of all men and women have at least an undergraduate degree under their belt.
Colleges and universities understand that students know they need a degree to break into a job market that once only demanded a high school diploma. They also know that with the number of colleges around, it is important their campuses offer all the bells and whistles of a “college experience” and not just a college education. This means the price tag increases. This increase in cost means that college is only accessible to students with the means to pay an incredible high price tag. However, in an answer to this problem, California Community Colleges have created a program that invited all students into the district and into the college forum in a way that alleviates some of the costs associated with a college education.
Free Tuition and Who it Helps the Most
The new program, titled the California College Promise, is part of the state’s initiative to fund free tuition at any of the state’s community colleges. It is available for one year if students meet several requirements.
First, they must be a first-time college student. Second, they must complete the district’s Pledge Application, which enables first time college students to commit to completing their Associate Degree of Transfer and completing their baccalaureate (bachelor’s) degree in two years at a CSU campus. The California Promise Pledge are provided priority registration, complete an enrollment plan with an adviser and complete 30 semester units within an academic year. Students also must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the California Dream Act application and maintain a minimum of a 2.0 GPA.
There are no income requirements necessary to qualify for free tuition. The district will cover each eligible student’s unit fees, but students will still be responsible to cover the cost of books, supplies, materials, non-course fees, and any housing and transportation needs.
Below are the California Community Colleges to which you may apply for the online California College Promise Grant (formerly known as BOG Fee Waiver) application. Click on a college link to begin your application.
- Allan Hancock College
- American River College
- Antelope Valley College
- Chabot College
- Citrus College
- College of Marin
- Contra Costa
- Diablo Valley
- De Anza College
- Foothill College
- Golden West
- Imperial Valley
- Irvine Valley
- Lake Tahoe
- Las Positas College
- Lassen College
- Los Medanos
- Mt San Antonio
- Orange Coast
- Sacramento City
- San Joaquin Delta College
- Santa Ana
- Santiago Canyon
- Woodland College
- Yuba College
For individuals interested in pursuing a higher education, or completing a degree, there are many other programs that exist in California to help cover the costs associated with obtaining a degree. One such program is the CalGrant. The CalGrant program is grant that is provided to eligible students that may cover the cost of attendance as well as associated costs, such as books and transportation. The Chaffee Grant is available to Foster Youth while the Middle Class Scholarship is designed to help undergraduate students pursuing a career in education pay the cost of obtaining the certification. Traditional loans and institutionally based scholarships and grants are also available through the campus Financial Aid Office.
Food for Thought
The California College Promise is one step the state is taking to create a path to a college education. There is no doubt that education is expensive. Current trends show no signs of it changing either. However, the knowledge that education is an important indicator about the health of a community is not lost. California believes in the future of the state and the future of the people. This is one progressive step.
Will it ‘fix’ the system? Absolutely not. Students will still need to determine how to pay for associated costs of education, such as books, materials, transportation and room and board.
Additionally, it is a hard program to stick with. For example, remedial classes mean that 36% of students enrolled in math classes have to play “catch up” before they are at a college level math class and 45% of enrolled students must take remedial English classes before they are able to enroll in college courses. This means that for many students, the ‘free tuition’ year is spent on ‘catching up’ and not actually taking a college class.
Another issue worth discussing is that the program demands that students transfer and complete the next two years at a CSU in 4 year. Unfortunately, the transfer rate after 2 years is only 48%, meaning that most students will still be completing their community colleges courses after 4 years and not completing the degree?
Why is this happening? First, most students enrolled in the district are “non-traditional” students, meaning they do not fit the bill of a ‘traditional’ 18-year-old undergrad. Most are working, at least part time. This means their attention is divided. Many also require additional academic support. But support is hard to come by when you are working all day and cannot dedicate hours on end on campus. And for those that do have that opportunity find that many of their faculty are only on campus a brief time before they have to zip off to another campus to teach.
A Slice of the Solution
The cost of college is a major problem that consists of a multitude of variables, none of which have a simple solution. What is important to recognize is that major decision makers understand the value of a college education and are taking steps to ensure equitable access. Free tuition is not the whole solution. It is one step of many. But, as they say, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” This is the first step of a thousand mile journey to amend and improve the U.S. system of higher education.