Lawmakers Propose Free Classes for First-Year Community College Students

SACRAMENTO -- Many argue that community college students get a bargain, paying fees of just $46 a unit. That's typically is around $550 dollars a semester.

But, that still makes it tough on low income students who must work their way through school.

"They have second jobs and it takes a longer time and they dedicate less time to their homework than they otherwise," said Melina Sanchez, Sac City College student.

They are many times more likely to drop out or take longer to finish college and are loaded with student loan debt when they do.

Community college was free until 1984.

Sacramento Assembly Member Kevin McCarty says we need more graduates not fewer.

"We need more graduates, we need more people to fill the jobs. we need to recruit people from overseas to fill the jobs in the Silicon Valley," McCarty said.

That's why McCarty co-authored a bill that waives fees for first year community college students who go to class full time.

The Governor must sign the bill and lawmakers must find around 30 million dollars to fund it even if he does sign it.

Now, 30 million dollars is a chunk of change even by State Budget standards but McCarty says the state's entire economy and everyone who lives here will benefit -- not just community college students.

"I took a semester out thinking may I just want to go work," said Sac City student Danny Thirakul.

Thirakul is a full time student with a job. He says waiving fees for the first year beats the low income grants he's getting now.

"The financial stress I mean hundreds of dollars at the beginning of each semester before we can reimbursed..that's ridiculous," Thirakul said.

Even with a fee waiver students still have to deal with transportation, food and books.

"One of my books this semester was around 300 dollars and that was just the book, and I had more to pay for," Sanchez said.

Governor Brown must decide whether California can afford to give community college students a head start financially.