Online Exclusives Opinion — 20 February 2018

By Ian Jones

@IDJONESPHOTOG

Free tuition for the first year of college?! In October, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 19 (AB-19,) the “California College Promise,” which provides just that, into law.

Previously known as the Board of Governors fee waiver, the California College Promise is a fee waiver for those who have either applied for financial aid by filling out a FAFSA (Free Application for Free Student Aid) or the California Dream Application, and be a California resident or an eligible AB 540 student.

I think that it could be beneficial for everyone, especially for the disabled community. Why? Because, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 56.7 million people in America had a disability in 2012. The Department of Labor’s 2017 Office of Disability Employment Policy says the disabled are more likely to be below the poverty line, no doubt in part because the unemployment rate for the disabled is disproportionately high compared to the non-disabled. “The labor force participation rate for people with disabilities . . . aged 16 and over is 20.1 percent as compared to 68.6 percent without disabilities of the same age.”

All those worries about pinching every last penny in one’s wallet would disappear, at least during that crucial first year – and if the conditions are met. (For example, if you have two consecutive terms with a cumulative GPA below 2.0, you’re probably going to lose your eligibility for the program –you’ll be notified within 30 days of the end of each term if you’ve been placed on Academic or Progress probation, according to information on the Los Rios Community College District’s website.)

“While many people only talk about this bill as ‘College Promise,’ or this bill as a free tuition program, it really is about creating the environment and alignment that will help students finish college,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said in an article in the OC Register.

“By signing the California Promise bill into law, Gov. Jerry Brown is providing much-needed support for the state’s estimated 2.1 million community college students,” said College Promise Campaign director Martha Kanter, in an emailed statement to the Sacramento Bee.

Up to now, the best options available have been things like the California state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, which helps college students with their educational expenses as long as they have a career path in mind. For example, when I was working on my Bachelor’s degree at John F. Kennedy University after I initially left Las Positas, I was a client of the department.

Even though they only paid about half of my tuition for each term I attended, it was a great help to me – but it wasn’t always easy. I had to save up every month so I’d be able to pay my half and also avoid being overdrawn. That’s a delicate balancing act.

What would’ve it have been like had the Department footed the bill for my entire first year? In my opinion, it would have been a dream come true.

 

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