Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses his revised 2019-2020 state budget during a news conference Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Sacramento, Calif. Newsom, a Democrat, has proposed a $213.5 billion a spending plan. (Photo by Rich Pedroncelli/AP, via EdSource)

The college admission scandal, college affordability and for-profit colleges are targets of new laws signed Oct. 4  by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Newsom signed the laws addressing the college admission scandal on the same day (last Friday) a prominent Napa Valley winemaker was sentenced to five months in prison for his participation in the scandal named Operation Varsity Blues by prosecutors.  The Legislature passed several bills in response to the scandal, which involved parents paying large sums of money to get their children into prestigious colleges nationwide including USC, UCLA and Stanford.

The money paid for proctors to boost their children’s test scores by changing answers and to bribe coaches to put their children on college sports teams even though they didn’t play the sport. However, one of those bills, initially seeking to limit admissions linked to alumni and donor connections, was weakened in its final version.

“Higher education has the power to transform lives, and all hardworking young people in our state deserve a shot at it,” Newsom said. “This package of bills strikes at the forces that keep the doors of opportunity closed to too many people in our state. Together we’re improving affordability, transparency and integrity in higher education”

Newsom also signed legislation that would significantly increase financial aid for students. Days after being sworn in as governor, Newsom proposed extending the state’s tuition-free community college program from one year to two. The state’s 2019-20 budget includes $42.6 million to support the second year of free tuition for approximately 33,000 students. The budget also includes $41.8 million to increase the number of competitive Cal Grant scholarships.

On college affordability:

  • Newsom expanded the California College Promise program, AB 2, which will offer the possibility of two years of community college tuition-free to more first-time, full-time students. It also expanded access to students in the Disabled Students Programs and Services to qualify even if they are not enrolled in a full-time program.
  • SB 150 relaxes the requirements and process for recipients of the Chafee Educational and Training vouchers award, which provides financial aid to current and former foster youth enrolled in qualifying colleges and universities.
  • AB 1278 addresses housing and food insecurity and mental health by requiring the state’s public two- and four-year institutions to include information about public services such as Cal Fresh, housing resources and mental health programs.
  • SB 354 expands eligibility for the California DREAM loan program to students enrolled in professional or graduate degree programs.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley applauded Newsom for focusing on a series of bills that would make college more affordable and transparent.

“I commend Gov. Newsom and the Legislature for approving a series of important bills that will help more California students succeed and for continuing to stand on the side of students who have been harmed by poor outcomes and closures by the for-profit colleges,” said Oakley in a statement. “Other bills signed today will improve the ability of high school students and students enrolled in adult education programs to concurrently take community college courses that count toward earning certificates and degrees.”

The legislation signed targeting the college admissions scandal didn’t go nearly as far as what was initially proposed. Earlier versions of AB 697, for example, would have banned colleges from receiving state financial aid if they allowed any admissions preferences to children of alumni or donors. Now it just requires that schools report whether their colleges provide any form of preferential treatment in admissions to applicants on the basis of donor or alumni relations. 

  • Newsom signed AB 136, which prevents anyone found guilty in the admissions scandal from taking tax deductions for donations made to the charities involved.
  • AB 1383 strengthens the “admission by exception” system to require at least three campus administrators to approve admission for each applicant being considered for an exemption. Those involve admitting students with special sports, artistic or other abilities, even if their high school grades or test scores fall short of usual standards.

Bills that more aggressively targeted for-profit colleges were also signed, but what Newsom got were weaker versions than were initially proposed. AB 1340 requires for-profit institutions to report their graduates’ earnings and debt levels, but those with high debt-to-income ratios are not barred from operating. Still, consumer advocates applauded the new legislation.

“The three bills signed by the governor today … are important steps to increase oversight, transparency and protections for students attending for-profit colleges,” said Debbie Cochrane, executive vice president of the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit group focused on affordability and access.

  • Newsom signed AB 1340, which creates a gainful-employment rule similar to the one developed by the Obama administration, which also required for-profits to show graduates’ earnings and debt levels. The law requires for-profit institutions to demonstrate they are effectively preparing students for the job market by calculating the ratio of graduates’ debt to their earnings.
  • AB 1346 helps students recover the true cost of their losses, such as housing, if their school closes while they are enrolled.
  • AB 1344 increases state oversight of out-of-state institutions that enroll California students in online programs.

Newsom also signed legislation that would make it easier for high school and adult students to access dual enrollment programs. On dual enrollment:

  • Newsom signed legislation that removes barriers to dual enrollment by simplifying the application process, making it easier for K-12 schools and community college districts to form partnerships and by extending the College and Career Access Pathways program for an additional five years.
  • SB 554 provides a streamlined approach for adults enrolled in high school equivalency programs to concurrently enroll in one or more community college courses without tuition or fees.
  • SB 586 requires the governing board of a school or community college district to consult with their local workforce development board to ensure that their career and technical education program is aligned with regional and statewide needs.

* EdSource reporter Larry Gordon contributed to this report.

Story originally published by EdSource.