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California's Still A Long Way From Tuition-Free Community College

East Los Angeles College is one of nine campuses in the L.A. Community College District. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)
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California is the latest state to take another step to eliminate college tuition. On Tuesday, state lawmakers announced a bill that would waive the second year of California community college tuition for first-time, full-time students. A program to waive first-year tuition for these students went into effect this semester.

The first-year tuition waiver only covers around 5 percent of the roughly 2 million students in the system. Most are returning or part-time. The same would apply to a second-year waiver.

Still, any help is a plus, said Rachel Baker, an education researcher at UC Irvine. "Free tuition sends the right message," she said. "We need to be spending time and money and political energy figuring how to get students into college but also how to get them through."


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Tuition for a full-time class load at a California community college will cost you about $1,100 a year.

Housing and transportation make up 80 percent of college costs, Baker said. There are other grants to help cover those costs. Here are two that incoming community college students can tap:

  • The Cal Grant gives students money based on need that they can use for tuition, food, transportation and other costs.
  • The Federal Pell Grant provides community college students with about $2,000 in aid per semester.


It's taking the state's community college students a long time to earn a degree or transfer to a four-year school. One study found that only 12 percent of them graduate in two years and about the same percentage transferred to a four-year university within three years.

Part of the problem is that it's notoriously difficult to get the right classes to earn an associate's degree or transfer out. Schools frequently don't offer enough classes, and students often aren't given the help they need to know which classes they need to take.

Here are two programs meant to address those problems:

  • Associates Degree for Transfer - Take the classes in this degree program and transfer is guaranteed within two years to a Cal State campus.
  • Guided Pathways - This is a new statewide initiative to clearly tell students which classes they need to take once they've chosen a career they want to pursue.

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