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Bill calls for two years of free tuition at community colleges

LOS ANGELES — Under a proposed California law, first-time community-college students attending full-time could be given two years of free tuition.

Assembly Bill 2 was introduced on Dec. 4 at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. It is intended as a step toward free community college for students in California. Currently, the program in California waives the first year of community college for all first-time, full-time students. The bill will extend this to include a second year. It will be heard in committees in early March of next year.

David Cruz, who has been attending East Los Angeles College for more than three years, is skeptical on how effective free tuition will be for students. While Cruz believes the bill is a step in the right direction, he is concerned with how beneficial it would be when community college students are without direction on their academic path.

Cruz, who previously received financial aid but is now disqualified, believes a program for free tuition would be wasted if there isn’t additional effort put into counseling students. He said that many students, including himself, are without proper information about programs and receiving financial aid for staff and faculty.

Cruz said he initially tried to enroll in ELAC out of high school in 2005, but was so frustrated by the enrollment process he trashed his application. Ten years later, Cruz received an email from the government informing him for the first time he had financial aid he must claim before his 25th birthday. That forced Cruz to re-apply.

Cruz felt that he could have benefitted from mandatory counseling during his first year at ELAC. Cruz planned on earning a marketing certificate but was blindsided by a single required math class he didn’t realize he needed.

“The first year I was taking random classes,” he said. “I think the root goes back to the counselors; had someone said ‘don’t take random classes, think about what you can take, these are the options.’ It’s going to take me four years to get a marketing certificate,” Cruz said.

Chris Curiel has been at ELAC for three years without financial aid and works full time.

Curiel has taken classes at East Los Angeles College and Los Angeles Trade Technical College, and like Cruz, he expressed frustration by the difficulties of finishing programs and receiving aid.

“It gives you anger and frustration,” Curiel said.

Curiel witnessed a student being dropped from a class because of delays in financial aid disbursement.

“I could see that the student was kind of ‘What did I do?’ He didn’t even know what the hell he did wrong,” Curiel said. “I see some of these students outside, I’ve seen them cry and break down. They needed that class and it got pushed back or they didn’t even get the financial aid.”

Both Cruz and Curiel said they often rely on other students to get information about programs or simply luck.

“The guidance would really push it and be better for everybody,” Curiel said.

AB 2 was written by Assemblymembers Miguel Santiago, David Chiu, Kevin McCart and Rob Bonta.

“In the fight against income inequality, a free education is the greatest instrument we have,” Santiago said. “We owe this effort to the students entering community college this year; we owe it to the economy of California — the fifth largest in the world; and most importantly, we owe it to our children.

“Whether community college is used as a stepping stone to our amazing four-year universities or to apprenticeships and workforce training programs, it is a key component of California’s education framework and should be the cornerstone of a debt-free education,” added Santiago, who represents part of East Los Angeles

By Vicky Nguyen

Contributing Writer