The dream of debt free college is going to come at a cost and according to a recent report from Legislative Analyst’s Office, a non-partisan fiscal and policy advisor, it’s to the tune of $3.3 billion a year in California.
According to the report, which set out to gauge the cost of designing and implementing debt free college, LAO found that of the annual cost of $3.3 billion, $2.2 billion each year would go for California community college students, $800 million each year would be for California State University students, and $300 million each year for University of California college students.
The LAO was asked by lawmakers in California to come up with ways to create a new financial aid system in California that would eliminate the need to take on costly student loans. It envisioned a program in which the state kicks in funding after taking into account all federal grants, some form of contribution from parents, and the student’s own income from working a job.
The LAO did find that there were ways to reduce the annual costs of debt free college, even by half. In order to achieve that, the schools in California would have to modify their requirement for part-time students. LAO suggested a 12 credit minimum which in essence would limit the Debt Free College Program only to full-time students.
“The associated savings could be significant, particularly at CCC,” the LAO said in the executive summary of its report. It estimates that if part-time students weren’t part of the debt free college program it would reduce the costs at California community colleges by $1.6 billion.
Another option is to make part-time students contribute more to their college bills. The LAO said that students who are taking six to twelve credits may be expected to work thirty hours a week instead of 15 hours. This is under the assumption that they can contribute more to their student bill because they are working more. “Under this particular example, were students to remain enrolled only part time, their higher expected contribution from work earnings generally would result in them no longer qualifying for debt free college aid,” said the LAO, noting that the strategy would again reduce the cost of free community college in California by $1.6 billion each year.
The LAO didn’t stop at assessing the costs associated with debt free college in California; it also suggested a time frame for how long students can get the aid. Since the program is aimed at students who are enrolled on a full-time basis, lawmakers may require the aid program to only last two years for community college students and four years for state school attendees. By doing that, the LAO argues it would force students to graduate on-time and lower the costs of the program greatly. As it stands now, the LAO said the on-time graduation rate for California community colleges, California State University, and University of California are low with scores of students enrolling for more semesters.
Author: Andrew Rombach
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