By | Charlotte Rutigliano
Assembly Member Miguel Santiago urged Governor Jerry Brown to sign a Assembly Bill 19 (AB 19) on Thursday, Sept. 27, in Los Angeles. AB 19 would give free tuition to community college students.
AB 19 would allow the California Community Colleges to waive fees for first-time students, and full-time community college students for one year. The bill would boost enrollment and graduation rates, expand access to financial aid and decrease student debt. Additionally, AB 19 would support California’s businesses by addressing the shortage of college-educated workers that are needed to sustain the workforce.
Francisco Rodriguez, Chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), started the press conference saying they want to change the narrative of public education, an often misunderstood and forgotten branch of higher education.
“The two-year system of California Community Colleges and others around the country have received unprecedented attention because of the role that community colleges play to fuel the economic engine of this country and of California,” Rodriguez said.
According to Rodriguez, the LACCD serves some of the poorest students in the nation. 85 percent of LACCD students are non-white, and half of the students live at or near the poverty line.
“In Los Angeles, where we have a plethora of educational options, we have amongst the lowest rate of participation for adults in higher education,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez quoted a recent study from the Public Policy State of California report, “California needs 1.1 million [graduates] with bachelor’s degrees by 2030 to keep up with economic demand. More college graduates means very clearly, higher incomes better economic mobility, more tax revenue and less demand for social services.”
“The idea of tuition-free community college programs has been spreading across the nation,” Rodriguez said. “California is leading the nation with the idea of universal access to higher education.”
Santiago said education should not be a privilege for the few who can afford it, education is a right that should be free.
“When you leave our education system and you have the tools to compete in the 21st century, you shouldn’t have to be in debt for a decade or two, just because you got a quality education,” Santiago said.
Santiago said that the bill would not be a giveaway. It would be an investment in the students, and that students will benefit from being full-time students. Almost 12 community colleges have signed on to support the bill.
“California has the 6th largest economy in the world. There is no reason why we should not prepare the 21st-century workforce,” Santiago said. “When we’re already behind a million degrees that are much needed to get our economy moving forward and to get it stronger.”