Education

Garcetti promised LAUSD grads a second free year of community college. Who's paying?

File: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti delivers remarks during the U.S. Conference of Mayors 86th annual Winter Meeting at the Capitol Hilton Jan. 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
File: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti delivers remarks during the U.S. Conference of Mayors 86th annual Winter Meeting at the Capitol Hilton Jan. 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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At his State of the City speech on Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti made a bold promise:

“Today I’m proud to announce that we will send our current College Promise class back to campus in the fall with a second free year of tuition,” he said at a packed council chambers in L.A. City Hall.

Show us the money

So who is the “we” in his statement? Turns out, it's mostly state government.

The L.A. College Promise is a program that pays one year of tuition at any of the nine L.A. community college campuses for L.A. Unified School District graduates.

Many discussions about the program leave out details about how this and other promise programs are funded. A closer look at the funding it takes to waive tuition and support students reveals a patchwork of pots of money – not necessarily new state funds – that still does not cover everything students need to earn their degrees.

A decades-old low-income waiver program now called the Promise Grant covered tuition for most of the roughly 4,000 College Promise students enrolled this past semester. And next year’s class of students will be covered by a state college promise program made possible by a new state law.

It’s unclear how much the state waived in tuition for those 4,000 students. State officials agree that it’s more than $3 million based on average tuition waived last year in the L.A. Community College District.

What other money is being used?

The only other funds last semester were private funds: a roughly $150,000 donation from the L.A. Community College district’s foundation and a nearly $380,000 donation from Garcetti’s private fundraising foundation.

So Garcetti is promising his foundation will continue to donate at least that amount through the end of next academic year.

Garcetti didn’t talk about funding the college promise a third year.

“We’re looking at this one year at a time,” said Deidre Lind, president of Garcetti’s Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles. “Our hope is that these kids will stay in school.”

The L.A. College Promise pays students’ tuition regardless of whether they qualify for financial aid. However, the program requires the students to apply and the vast majority receive it. The private fundraising covers tuition for students who don’t receive financial aid. The new state law will cover those students next year.

“We’re seeing both public and private investment,” in the promise programs, said Larry Galizio, president of the Community College League of California. “The challenge becomes the sustainability and scope. It can be complicated.”

Why it matters?

Regardless of where the money is coming from, L.A. community college officials said financial support often helps students decide if they’re going to stay in school.

“In many ways it makes or breaks a student because they either choose to work or they choose to go to school,” said West L.A. College Vice President Roberto Gonzalez.

Gonzalez says covering tuition also helps students attend full time so they can earn their degrees quicker.

“A second year full time allow them to accelerate their time to degree more so than when they attend part time,” said Francisco Rodriguez, chancellor of the L.A. Community College district.

He and other college officials are now working on finding funds to help students pay for transportation to campus, books, and food because they’ve found that when students are spending most of their time earning money to pay for these items, it cuts down on the time they spend studying and going to class.