How to Take Advantage of Free Tuition at City College

Here's what you need to know about San Francisco's new plan to make attendance at CCSF gratis for city residents.

A plan spearheaded by Supervisor Jane Kim to make City College of San Francisco free for students was unanimously approved at a Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 9. San Francisco is now the only city in the nation to offer free higher education to its residents.

Starting this fall, residents will be able to attend for-credit courses at City College for free rather than paying the current rate of $46 per unit. Those tuition costs will be covered by the $5.4 million in tax revenue per year that officials expect to be raised by Proposition W, which increased the real estate tax on properties sold for more than $5 million.

City College is now tasked with preparing all of the logistics needed for students to be able to sign up for classes when fall registration begins on April 17.

In the meantime, there are some important things you need to know in order to take advantage of the new program.

If you are a San Francisco resident who has been living in the city for one year (plus one day), you will be able to register for Fall 2017 and pay nothing in the way of tuition. This also applies to students who are residents under Deferred Action for Child Arrivals as well as to undocumented persons qualifying for in-state tuition under Assembly Bill 540. City College will invoice the city for the cost of classes.

Out-of-state students living in San Francisco, international students (including those on an F-1 visa), and undocumented students who are not eligible for DACA or AB 540 won’t be able to take advantage of the program just yet. These students still face a $211 per unit fee.

Students already receiving free tuition provided by the Board of Governors (BOG) fee waiver also stand to benefit from the deal, which will provide them with grants to cover costs for books and transportation. Part-time students will receive $100 per semester, and full-timers will get $500.

Eligibility for the Board of Governors fee waiver is determined by income. This year, for example, BOG waivers were granted to single-person households making no more than $17,655 annually, and the income for a family of four could not exceed $36,375. For more information, visit the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office website at

Current and prospective students should still fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms to see what sort of help is available to them. In addition to loans, some may qualify for grants, such as the Cal Grant and the Pell Grant. For those eligible, the funds can still be applied to costs other than tuition. For more information, visit the California Student Aid Commission site at Take notice: The priority deadline for FAFSA applications is March 1.

While undocumented students are ineligible for federal aid, there are still many resources available to help secure financial assistance, including the Cal Grant. Those in this category should visit the Educators for Fair Consideration website at for more information.

Under the free tuition program, certain fees still apply. The program does not cover the $17-per-semester health fee or the optional $5-per-semester student-activities fee. Also, those not eligible for the BOG waiver are still on the hook for all other education-related costs such as books, housing, and transportation.

While the program was approved unanimously by the CCSF Board of Trustees, much work lies ahead in the way of expanding the program to meet the needs of some of the city’s most vulnerable populations.

First, there’s the issue of ensuring access to undocumented students who are not covered by DACA or AB 540. Before the final vote of approval, trustee John Rizzo introduced an amendment that urged the Board of Supervisors, the Mayor’s Office, and the program’s oversight committee to work together with the college to secure additional funding for these remaining students.

“Supporting the undocumented students is more than just making a speech about how you support them. I think that asking the mayor to work with the chancellor is not an unreasonable thing to do,” Rizzo says.

Alisa Messer of the City College Faculty Union (AFT Local 2121) has announced that the union is looking into sponsoring legislation to expand educational access to undocumented students at the state level. She also supports the idea of finding scholarships for those students who are currently not included in the deal, a suggestion that has been put forth by Susan Lamb, the college’s interim chancellor.

Supervisor Jane Kim echoed this sentiment but also identified what appears to be another major roadblock.

“I’m 100-percent committed to figuring out a way to make City College free for undocumented students that don’t qualify for in-state tuition,” she said. “The issue isn’t funding. We can fund this program. The question is how do we identify the students.”

Many stakeholders also expressed concern over the fact that the current grant amount for students receiving the BOG fee waiver does not adequately cover educationally related costs.

“For those who get the BOG, $500 is not enough,” Board of Trustees President Thea Selby says. “I think we will all fight for additional funding, absolutely.

Originally, it had double the funding that it has now.”

Issues aside, the emotions in the room during the Feb. 9 meeting were overwhelmingly positive.

“Nothing could be better for the City College of San Francisco than to turn the final pages of this accreditation crisis into a victory that looks like this,” says Messer, who is also an English instructor at the college. “Not just for us, not just

for our students, not just for our city, but really for public education in the U.S.”

Stephen Jackson is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco.

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