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San Francisco First in Nation to Provide Free Community College for All

CCSF Mission Campus (CCSF photo)

San Francisco will become the first city in the United States to offer all residents free community college regardless of their ability to pay.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports city residents will be able to attend City College of San Francisco (CCSF) free of charge under a deal announced Monday by Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Jane Kim. The city will guarantee $5.4 million to the public, two-year community college to cover students’ $46-per-credit tuition fees.

California residents who have lived in San Francisco for more than a year and a day will be eligible, including the city’s wealthiest residents. “Even the children of the founders of Facebook,” said Kim. KGO reports city residents who sell homes valued at $5 million or more will have to pay some tuition.

Kim, who represents San Francisco’s District 6 — which includes the South of Market (SoMa), Mission Bay, Treasure Island and, partially, Tenderloin districts, said the move will benefit more than 28,000 students. “Making City College free is going to provide greater opportunities for more San Franciscans to enter into the middle class and more San Franciscans to stay in the middle class if they currently are,” said Kim, who unsuccessfully ran for state Senate last year.

Mayor Lee hailed the deal in a pair of tweets. “SF is proud to be the first City in the nation to offer free community college tuition to our local residents,” one tweet read. “We’re eliminating a major barrier SF residents face by making CCSF accessible to all our local residents,” the other tweet said.

“As a child of working-class immigrants, I know first-hand the importance of a college education and the struggles to pay for it,” Lee said in a statement. “Working together, we found an economic plan that would make City College accessible to our city residents and give additional support to those students struggling the most. This commitment will provide our residents the opportunity to attend college, continue to learn and create better lives for themselves. This is an investment in our youth, in our city and in our future.”

Free tuition does not mean that college won’t cost students anything at all. According to CCSF’s student expense budget, textbooks and other supplies cost around $1,700 annually for full-time students.

Throughout his unsuccessful 2016 Democratic presidential bid, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) made free college tuition a cornerstone of his campaign. “This is not a radical idea,” the self-proclaimed democratic socialist asserted. “Germany eliminated tuition… Chile will do the same. Finland, Norway, Sweden and many other countries around the world also offer free college to all of their citizens. If other countries can take this action, so can the United States of America. In fact, it’s what many of our colleges and universities used to do. The University of California system offered free tuition at its schools until the 1980s.”

San Francisco has long led the nation in implementing progressive social change, from universal health care and preschool and paid sick leave to a $15 hourly minimum wage, free sex change operations for transgender residents, environmental protection and offering sanctuary and city services to undocumented immigrants. Residents are proud of their “San Francisco values,” even as the term has been used to bash the city and its policies by leading conservative figures.

While San Francisco’s commitment to assisting its poor, working- and middle-class residents sets it apart from much of the rest of the nation, the famously progressive city nevertheless suffers from income inequality that more closely resembles a developing nation instead of the European social democracies with which it is so frequently compared. While the city’s median annual household income is over $80,000, more than 6,500 city residents are homeless, a statistic heavily influenced by some of the nation’s highest rents and housing prices. According to Rent Jungle, the average apartment in the city costs $3,817 per month to rent, while the median home price has soared to over $1.1 million, according to Zillow.

Critics have slammed the Lee administration for offering major tax incentives for businesses, especially tech industry giants including Twitter, Uber and others, while not doing enough to protect the city’s vulnerable poor and working-class residents from the epidemic of evictions and displacement caused or exacerbated by development and the gentrification that accompanies it.

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