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Gov. Brown signs bill to waive first-year tuition at community colleges

By Ludwig Hurtado

Oct. 20, 2017 11:14 p.m.

For first-generation college student Oscar Gaytan, community college was an affordable way to figure out what he was interested in and whether college was something he wanted to pursue.

“(College) is something new to you,” said Gaytan, a fourth-year English and gender studies student. “As a first-generation student, you don’t talk to your family about college because they don’t really know what it’s like.”

In an effort to make community college more accessible for students like Gaytan, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 19, a bill that waives tuition for first-year community college students, into law Friday. Students must apply to get their fees waived and take at least 12 units a semester.

Pedro Noguera, a distinguished professor of education at UCLA, said he thinks the law is a step in the right direction to improve public education funding in the state.

“One of the ironies people don’t realize is that community college used to be free,” Noguera said. “So this is a return to what we once had.”

Noguera said he thinks making the first year of community college free is an investment in a more educated workforce from which the state will benefit in the future.

“We have so many people who can’t afford to live in our cities, because they can’t afford housing,” Noguero said. “Unless we address these issues through education, the future for California is bleak.

Noguera said he thinks the bill will help grow California’s supply of skilled workers.

“This a way to ensure that we have young people who have the skills necessary to go into good paying jobs, that the economy needs,” he said.

Sayron Stokes, Undergraduate Students Association Council’s transfer student representative, said she thinks the law is important because community college costs have increased over the years. She added she thinks more students will now enroll in community college.

“Community college has generally been overlooked, but this law will increase opportunities for students, “ she said.

Stokes added community college helped her develop many skills including time management and prepared her academically to attend UCLA.

“I learned how to balance my extracurricular (activities) and (it) definitely prepared me for a lot of reading,” she said. “It makes you competitive at a UC.”

Several transfer students said attending community college helped them figure out their interests and gain skills that helped them attend a four-year university.

Gaytan said he thinks the one year of free community college will give students an opportunity to take a diverse range of classes to figure out their interests. He added many first-generation and low-income students do not initially know whether they even want to go to college.

“Having a free first year gives you a stepping stone to help you understand the concept of college,” he said.

Ashi Hoffman, a fourth-year psychology transfer student, said community college helped motivate him and gave him the opportunity meet people he would not have otherwise.

“I remember the first time I met someone who was a Marine … being around him was the coolest thing ever,” he said. “Being next to a 22-year-old single mom with a 3-year-old daughter, who was taking more classes than I was … was super inspiring.”

Lisa Li, a fourth-year English transfer student, said as a non-native English speaker, community college allowed her to practice English and get used to the American college system. Li added she thinks a free first year would encourage more students to attend community college.

“Some students are so close (to qualifying) for financial aid, and they really want to go to school but can’t afford it,” she said. “I think it would (be) nice if the first year (of community college) would be free.”

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