The Corner

San Francisco’s Bogus ‘Free’ College-Tuition Program for All

San Francisco mayor Ed Lee and San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Jane Kim reached a “historic” agreement on Monday that will supposedly offer free higher education for all of San Francisco’s residents. “Making City College free,” Kim said, “is going to provide opportunities for more San Franciscans to enter into the middle class and for more San Franciscans to stay in the middle class if they already are there.”

Effective this fall, the City College of San Francisco will receive $2.1 million per year over the next two years from the city’s government; after two years, the contract is renewable. In return, San Franciscans must receive 45,000 subsidized academic credits per year (students must have lived in the city for at least a year to receive funding). The City of San Francisco will also appropriate $3.3 million per year over the next two years for other contributions to higher education, such as providing a $500-per-year stipend for low-income, full-time students and $200 per year for low-income, part-time students to cover education expenses (for example: textbooks, school supplies, and transportation).

But, according to City College’s enrollment statistics, there are 23,410 full-time and part-time students enrolled for course credit in Spring 2017, approximately 9,000 of which are full-time students enrolled in at least twelve academic credits. Which means that the allocated funds will inevitably pay for only a small percentage of students. Indeed, if the subsidized credits went to full-time students enrolled in a mere twelve credits, only 3,750 students would receive subsidized tuition.

Interim chancellor Susan Lamb said there are “a lot of empty seats” in the lecture halls, but that as a result of the city’s reforms, students will “come back and give us a try.” (In 2012, City College faced an accreditation crisis because of administrative and fiscal-planning issues.) It’s unclear, however, how $2.1 million of the city’s funds will cover the expenses of the currently enrolled students, let alone more students.

Moreover, the idea that the city is raising taxes in order to pay for education is suspect. The source of funding for Lee and Kim’s agreement is the anticipated $44 million per year from the recently passed Proposition W, a real-estate transfer tax levied on properties selling for at least $5 million. But most of the money collected from Proposition W will be held in the city’s general fund, allowing city officials to use the cash in any way they see fit. As so often, it seems that city officials are using a nice idea as cover for a broader power grab. A mere 20 percent of the new funds will go to the City College of San Francisco. The rest? Watch this space.

Austin YackAustin Yack is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute and a University of California, Santa Barbara alumnus.