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San Francisco to Become First City to Offer Free Tuition to College

Beginning next fall, thousands of students will attend the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) for free after an agreement was reached on Friday by Mayor Ed Lee and San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim. After much political back-and-forth, the city will provide $5.4 million annually for residents who have lived in San Francisco at least a year and plan to attend classes.

An estimated 30,000 local students will be saved the $46-a-credit fee that was previously required by students to pay, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“We’re making City College free for all San Francisco residents, and that’s really exciting,” Kim said. “This is just the beginning of our free City College program.”

Under the agreement, both part-time and full-time students are qualified, regardless of income. International students, however, are excluded from these benefits.

Some of the money will help offset the costs of school supplies and textbooks. Full-time students who receive financial aid will be eligible to receive an extra $500 per year. Students attending part-time who receive financial aid will receive $200.

According to the student expense budget for City College, textbooks and supplies represent about $1,700 a year for a full-time students, not including transportation or other costs outside tuition.

Read More: New York Proposes Free Public College for Close to a Million Families

Funding to lift students of the heavy financial burdens often associated with higher education in the US will come from Proposition W — a transfer tax approved by city residents in November. Previously, the Board of Supervisors voted to use about $13 million of the city’s annual revenue toward Proposition W but residents were hesitant to support the proposal because it was a nonbinding resolution that didn’t formally commit the money for free tuition.

Free college in America has always been a complicated endeavour. The topic gained traction during the 2016 Presidential Race when Sen. Bernie Sanders pointed to European countries like Sweden, Denmark and Germany to prove the model’s success.

Germany, with particularly high income taxes, has one of the most inclusive debt-free college programs, offering free college to foreign students as well.

One student in Berlin costs the country, on average, $14,600 (€13,300) a year, as reported by the BBC. Tuition fees could be seen as low as €500-1000 in the last decade but by the end of 2014, the fee was entirely phased out.

Read More: Countries Where a College Degree Doesn’t Cost a Dime

According to College Board, in the 2016-17 academic year, private US universities charged students on average about $33,480 per year.

More Americans are burdened by a crippling student debt than ever. Students owe nearly $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers, according to Student Loan Hero. In fact, the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up 6% from 2015.

In recent years, colleges like the CCSF have struggled with attendance. The college lost a third of its students during an accreditation crisis, The San Francisco Examiner reported. The free college initiative is enough to cover tuition for current students at CCSF and is expected to jolt a 20% increase in enrollment.  

At a City Hall news conference, acting Chancellor Susan Lamb, urged the public to come back to City College in the fall: “we have a lot of empty seats.” The city of San Francisco may inspire other cities and institutions to fill up those seats and take the first steps toward free tuition.