Local News Matters weekly newsletter

Start your week with a little inspiration. Sign up for our informative, community-based newsletter, delivered on Mondays with news about the Bay Area.

State Sen. Josh Becker, D-San Mateo, has introduced a bill that could allow San Mateo County Community College District students to attend college tuition-free.

Senate Bill 893 — co-authored by Assemblymember Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo and Assemblymember Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto — would allow the district to charge students less than the tuition rate of $46 per unit, a rate that is currently required by the state.

The bill would also allow the district to waive or cover enrollment fees using local revenue.

Becker said that increasing access to higher education is life-changing, as it helps ensure economic mobility for county residents.

District Chancellor Michael Claire said the bill would help the district leverage its resources to help students.

“Our district has the resources to do more for more — if we had the authority to do so,” Claire said.

A Promise of professional and financial aid

Currently, the district’s Promise Scholars Program provides financial assistance to help cover food, transportation, tuition, supplies and other college fees. The program also provides personalized career development and academic counseling.

Khalid Shatrat, one Fall 2019 promise scholar at the College of San Mateo, said that the biggest benefit of the program is the fact that the first two years of education are free.

“Books are covered, tuition is covered. And, really, regardless of your goal, just getting a quality education from a school like CSM, without really having to pay anything for it, is something that’s really incredible and it shouldn’t be taken for granted,” said Shatrat, who earned an Associate of Science degree in accounting.

“(J)ust getting a quality education from a school like CSM, without really having to pay anything for it, is something that’s really incredible and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.”

Khalid Shatrat, former promise scholar

If SB 893 passes, the district would be able to expand the Promise Scholars Program and help all 6,000 students who are eligible for the program. Right now the district can only help 2,000 of those students, according to Becker’s office.

The bill would also require the district’s board to establish eligibility requirements for the reduced fees and to provide a statement showing how the fee changes would impact the district financially.

Barrier to entry

John Pimentel, a member of the district’s board of trustees, said that the cost of tuition is a barrier to working adults who cannot afford those fees.

“All county residents should be able to affordably complete college or a technical degree which is the most effective and lasting tool to foster broad social equity,” Pimentel said. “We don’t need to wait for federal or state funding because San Mateo County is blessed with strong property values and stable funding for SMCCCD (the San Mateo County Community College District).”

In order to advance, the bill must clear senate policy committees and a fiscal review if necessary, then it must be passed by the Senate by May 27 to proceed to the Assembly.

Founded in 1922, the district’s three colleges enroll about 45,000 students annually, according to its website. The colleges are located in Redwood City, San Bruno and San Mateo.