SF makes city college free for residents

San Francisco will be the first U.S. city to provide free community college to its residents next fall.

Mayor Ed Lee’s announcement came after months of uncertainty about the passed ballot measure and weeks of negotiation talks between the mayor, Supervisor Jane Kim, San Francisco City College officials and labor representatives. Lee agreed $5.4 million will be committed annually to the free City College program for the next two years.

“Higher education shouldn’t be a debt sentence,” said Kim, who sponsored the proposition, during a board meeting in December. “It is frankly shameful that the student debt is the largest debt in our country here today.”

Low-income residents who previously received a state-funded tuition fee waiver will be given $250 per full-time semester for other living expenses. The city will also give City College $500,000 upfront to assist with the implementation of the program.

City College’s Financial Aid Office estimated in an annual report the cost of attending the college, not including tuition, is $9,221 per semester for residents. This factors in categories such as transportation, books and room and board.

“I don’t believe a high school diploma is enough to give an individual the tools and resources to have the opportunity to succeed in San Francisco,” Kim said during the board meeting.

Voters approved Proposition W last November that increased the city’s estate transfer tax for homes valued at more than $5 million to fund City College for residents. Lee introduced a plan in December to reallocate funds from the transfer tax to a ballot measure to fund homeless services and transportation, which did not pass during the past election.

Many at the college hope the program will attract more students to its campuses.

City College recently escaped the threat of losing their accreditation status, after a nearly five-year battle to meet the accrediting commission standards.

The college’s enrollment has decreased by one-third since 2013, according to CBS Local.

“We appreciate the support of San Francisco officials and residents,” City College Chancellor Susan Lamb said in a statement. “And [we] hope that the prospect of free community college will inspire people to take advantage of this educational opportunity and enroll at City College this fall.”