Opinion: Let’s Promise to Put the Dream of College Within Closer Reach


By Rob Bonta

Imagine yourself a high school senior, enjoying fall sports, hunkering down for the toughest part of the semester, around the beginning of October. Many of your classmates already know where they’ll apply to attend college and even toured campuses over the summer. Yours is a different story, however, because your family isn’t quite sure college is in the cards for you.

Your parents, like so many Californians, are on edge about the increasing cost of living– particularly housing– and you don’t think financial aid will cover enough of your expenses. You could work part-time and try to balance college or you could put it off for a year or two and try to save up. There would be sacrifices either way.

While California already offers fee waivers to low- income community college students, legislation currently on the Governor’s desk would, if signed into law, expand fee waivers to all first-year community college students including middle-income students.

I voted for Assembly Bill 19, authored by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-43), because it would waive tuition for all of California’s first-time, full-time community college students for their first year. These so-called “Promise” programs have helped students across the nation– including in areas like Long Beach and, more recently, San Francisco– successfully enroll in certain community or technical colleges.

Promoting full-time attendance with this fee waiver can also help students access additional state and federal financial aid that many may not realize they’re eligible to receive. For example, the Promise program in Tennessee requires students to file a federal financial aid application (FAFSA). Over 70 percent  of high school seniors in Tennessee completed their FAFSAs in 2015-16, the highest rate in the nation. Assembly Bill 19 can help motivate students, once they’re enrolled at a California community college, to similarly apply for federal aid.

California stands to gain much from this investment. Research shows we will need 1 million new college -educated workers to sustain our workforce and competitive advantage. In today’s economy, a high school diploma isn’t always enough. We must create equity and opportunity for low- and middle-income families.

I believe Assembly Bill 19 will help reach students who may not otherwise enter college due to their financial circumstances or a general sense that college isn’t right for them. Under the Long Beach College Promise, the number and percentage of students across all ethnic groups who’ve successfully completed coursework needed to transfer to a four-year program have increased.

If you were a high school senior, would the promise of one-year’s tuition encourage or discourage your choice about college? Mr. Governor, please sign that promise.

Assemblymember Rob Bonta represents the 18th Assembly District, which includes Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro and is the Assistant Majority Leader and Chair of the Asian Pacific Islander (API) Legislative Caucus.


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