Garcetti Proposes Free Year Of Community College Tuition For LAUSD Grads

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(Photo by Eric Garcetti via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)

Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged his support for a plan to offer one year of free community college tuition for all qualifying Los Angeles Unified School District graduates at Thursday's State of the City address. The proposal is part of a larger effort to meet President Barack Obama's call last year to make community college education free, according to City New Service.

Garcetti is working on the plan in partnership with LAUSD and the Los Angeles Community College District. A spokesperson for the Mayor told ABC that the deal is not yet finished, but that it would likely start in 2017.

"This bold proposal sends a powerful message that all hard-working L.A. Unified students deserve a robust college education, without taking on decades' worth of student debt," LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King said in a statement.

Los Angeles Community College District board President Scott Svonkin told the L.A. Times that Garcetti had agreed to raise $1.5 million toward the program, splitting its estimated initial $3 million cost with the district. It should probably be noted that L.A.'s mayor has no formal power over our city's schools, so Garcetti's role in the initiative appears to be purely advisory (plus fundraising). CBS reports that the Mayor's share of the funds will likely come from philanthropists, private companies, and charities.

The proposal had not been previously announced. Svonkin first pledged his support for providing some form of tuition-free community college education in a November 2015 op-ed for the Daily News. No formal plans were included in that initial op-ed, but Svonkin wrote that he "wholeheartedly" supported Obama's initiative and laid out a detailed argument for why LACCD should join the movement. According to Svonkin, 60 percent of full and part-time LACCD students receive some form of fee waivers through a state program for low-income community college students, but he believes far more students are eligible for support:

A survey by LACCD’s institutional research office revealed the families of 89 percent of our students made less than $59,000 a year. In fact, 56 percent of our students said their family income was less than $30,000.

Clearly the vast majority — not just 60 percent — of LACCD’s student body come from economically challenged conditions.

I believe this discrepancy is due to the daunting paperwork students must file to prove fee waiver eligibility. That red-tape is especially troublesome, I believe, for students who are the first in their families to attend college or come from recent-immigrant families. Something else to consider: 49 percent of LACCD students said “financial factors” were a moderate or major problem impeding their academic performance. Why? Possibly because more than half our students have off-campus jobs; 39 percent told us they were working 20-plus hours a week. Research tells us scholastic performance suffers when students work more than 10-15 hours a week, and that the need to work often causes students to drop out before attaining a certificate or degree.

Garcetti's pledged support is likely to be the biggest headline from his third annual State of the City address, which "did not feature announcements of significant new mayoral initiatives" according to the L.A. Times. The whole speech can be read here.