Chaffey

Chaffey College students wait for their next classes to begin.  (Contributed photo by Chaffey College)

Community college students display a grit and tenacity you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

I’ve met many -- both as former dean of the Chaffey College Fontana campus and now as vice president of student services -- who manage a full course load while raising families and working multiple jobs.

We provide students with as much financial support as we can through scholarships, grants and other forms of financial aid to help them reach their academic goals. For many, that’s a great start. For other students, more help is needed.

Making the first two years of community college free -- a proposal by Governor Gavin Newsom -- is an idea we should all embrace.

Here’s why.

Even though community colleges have a reputation of being less expensive than four-year colleges and universities, a study by the Institute for College Access and Success shows low-income community college students actually pay a higher net cost than those attending four-year universities.

Low-income students had on average about $5,800 in grant aid available to them in the 2017-2018 academic year, according to the study, while University of California students could receive about $27,500 and Cal State students $10,600. Greater financial aid gives students the freedom to focus more on school and attend full time.

Students who attend community colleges -- particularly those in the Inland Empire -- are often from low-income families. That means they have to work more hours to make ends meet, which can force them to take fewer classes and take longer to earn a degree. They may also have to borrow more money to cover costs, leaving them in greater debt once they graduate.

Nearly 70 percent of students at my college were identified as being economically disadvantaged in the 2017-2018 academic year. And nearly half had plans to work at least 20 hours per week to cover their life and college expenses.

I am passionate about improving access to college for all students. We’re always seeking new ways to do this, including the Panther Promise, a program we launched in the last year to provide all first-time students a year of free tuition.

We have helped more than 100 students through this program so far. That’s $111,000 in fees that students did not have to pay. Our Fontana students, who represented roughly 20 percent of our entire student population last year, received $11.6 million in grants and scholarships. About a third of our Fontana campus students earned Pell Grants.

We should strive to have more college-educated residents in our communities because they will provide a return on our investment. The California Community College Chancellor’s Office estimates for every $1 invested by Californians in students who wind up graduating, the economy sees a $4.50 net return.

We are honored to do our part to improve the economy through education. We applaud the governor’s motivation to do the same.

(Eric Bishop is vice president of student services at Chaffey College.)

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