San Francisco will be the first American city to offer free community college to its residents, according to a deal announced by Supervisor Jane Kim and Mayor Ed Lee.
The deal covers tuition costs for students at City College of San Francisco who are residents of the city. In order to pay for it, the city's committed $5.4 million in annual funding over the next two years, plus a one-time startup fund of $500,000 to get the plan off the ground. The stated goal of the plan, which was first proposed by Kim last year, is to help tackle San Francisco's widening income gap, Kim told Bay City News.
"Making City College free is going to provide opportunities for more San Franciscans to enter into the middle class and for more San Franciscans to stay in the middle class if they already are there," Kim said.
It's a particular issue in SF, which was once one of the top cities for income inequality in the country according to the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy research center. It's gone from the number 2 spot behind Atlanta in 2014 and 2015, to number 9 last year. One 2014 study compared its income inequality to that of Rwanda. While the city's made strides, there's still plenty of work to do, and class disparities are just one piece of the puzzle in a city with a booming tech industry and a looming housing crisis.
What's more, the deal could mean an enrollment boon for City College of San Francisco, which was embroiled in an accreditation crisis for the last seven years. The accreditation was finally confirmed on the lucky day of Friday, January 13, but the college now faces the challenge of enticing students to trust the school enough to enroll there again. The college leadership acknowledged that it'll be an uphill battle.
"We have a schedule that was basically built for about 85,000 students, and we want students to come back," said Interim Chancellor Susan Lamb, who fought for the accreditation last month. "Come back and give us a try."