Can You Really Go To College For Free In San Francisco?

You may have seen on the news that the city of San Francisco plans to give free college tuition to all. Sweeping pronouncements like this are well-received, especially in this ultra-progressive (and expensive) city. But is it as simple as walking up to a university and enrolling? Well, not quite.

While San Francisco will become the first city in California to offer legitimate no-tuition college, it will only be for community college. And just one community college at that: the City College of San Francisco. In a deal announced last week by Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Jane Kim, this move will hopefully bring both more enrollees and more state funding to the college.


The tuition break is supposed to take effect in the fall and will result in the city paying $5.4 million a year to buy out the fee of $46 per credit that falls to students. That money from the city will also go towards a contribution of $250 a semester to full-time, low-income students who have already received a state-funded fee waiver. This money can be used to pay for books, school supplies, transportation and other associated school costs. Part-time students under the same stipulations will get $100 a semester to be used for books and supplies as well.

Anyone who has been a resident of San Francisco for at least a year will be eligible for the tuition break, which makes accessing the free tuition much easier. That being said, it won’t apply to anywhere but the singular community college, unlike New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s free public-college initiative which is much broader.

So how will San Francisco pay this multi-million dollar fee? It all comes from a ballot initiative from the November 2016 election. Proposition W imposed a new tax on the sale of properties that cost more than $5 million dollars. This new tax will be used in part for the school fees, and there will be plenty to go around—San Francisco has some of the highest real estate prices in America, coupled with some of the worst income inequality. It’s easy to see the benefit in spreading this wealth around.

graduate photo
Flickr | K.C.Saff

According to the San Francisco Gate, Proposition W is expected to raise $44 million annually. Most of that will go into the city’s general fund, but a portion (the previously mentioned $5.4 million) will go to students, and not directly to City College.

Though it’s not immediately certain how many students will benefit from this city funding, the mayor’s education advisor Hydra Mendoza says that they can expect to buy about 45,000 academic credits with a little less than half of the funding for the students. When you do the math, this means almost 4,000 students taking a full course load of 12 credits.

“Making City College free is going to provide greater opportunities for more San Franciscans to enter into the middle class and more San Franciscans to stay in the middle class if they currently are,” San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim told local station KGO-TV.

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About the Author
Jessica Suss
Current high-school English teacher, native Chicagoan, and nut butter enthusiast moonlighting as a writer.

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