Bill aims to fund true costs of college

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Senate Bill 291 would expand financial aid offerings

Community college costs more than just tuition, leading to some students being able to afford classes yet unable to attend them, California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said in a conference call with student media on March 6 about California Senate Bill 291.

SB 291 is a proposed expansion of community college financial aid, designed to help students pay for the true cost of college. 

The bill was introduced by State Sen. Connie Leyva and has nine co-sponsors in the Senate. 

This bill would establish the California Community College Student Financial Aid Program, which would work alongside current Cal Grants to cover the entire cost of education in California. 

“The true cost of community college is much more than just tuition. More than half of the students attending a California community college have trouble affording balanced meals, or they worry about running out of food, and nearly one in five are either homeless or do not have a place to live, according to this survey,” Oakley said, referring to a survey conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. 

The bill calls for an extra $1.5 billion in financial aid money to be distributed over the course of six years. Starting with $250 million in fiscal year 2019-2020, the amount distributed will increase by $250 million every year up to $1.5 billion.

All low-income students would be eligible for the same benefits, regardless of their educational goals or career path. 

Students only need to have proof of residency in California to receive these benefits. 

Despite California having the lowest tuition rates in the country, the high cost of living can be a barrier for low-income students to attend college. 

“Examining college costs around the state, The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) found that after factoring in financial aid, the net cost of community college was actually more expensive for students than UC or CSU in seven of the nine regions studied,” the bill states.

Some student media expressed concerns over how colleges would pay for the lost revenue from subsidized textbooks and transportation. 

“At the end of the day it’s up to the local boards to determine how to apply those resources in the way that they feel is in the best interest of their communities,” Oakley responded.

SB 291 looks to broaden California financial aid to ensure that community colleges turn away less students, as well as guaranteeing that students can accomplish whatever degree, certificate or training they need from community college. 

“Our policy makers in California have worked hard to ensure that tuition isn’t a barrier for community college students and that work should be celebrated,” Oakley said.