Berkeley City College on Center Street in downtown Berkeley. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Berkeley City College announced a new program called “Fall is Free” last week granting in-state students free tuition and other perks for the fall 2022 semester with the aim of eliminating financial barriers to higher education.

“We recognize students in our community are making important decisions to provide for themselves and their families amid a pandemic, rising housing costs, and inflation,” BCC President Angélica Garcia said in a statement. “This is an opportunity for students to enroll in as many classes as they can at no cost.”

To qualify, students must live in California and enroll in at least three units (typically one or two classes) by the start of classes on Aug. 22.

This includes new and returning students, high school students who want to take community college classes and recreational learners, as well as students who do not qualify for financial aid.

“The target population is literally anybody that wants to apply for school,” said Thomas Rizza, spokesperson for the college.

Students from out of state, including international students, are not eligible.

Berkeley City College’s program launched a few weeks after Laney College in Oakland announced its own free tuition program for the fall semester in July. The two programs are similar, though Laney’s program does not have a minimum enrollment requirement and offers free tuition to students from out of state.

Besides the free tuition, students will receive free health services. Students enrolled in a minimum of six units will receive AC Transit bus passes.

To be eligible for the program, new and returning students must enroll and complete a FAFSA, California Dream Act or California College Promise Grant application. As long as students apply, they don’t need to qualify for financial aid to be eligible for free tuition.

BCC expects the program to cost $1.9 million this fall, with the money coming from COVID-19 relief funds.

Enrollment has been declining at community colleges for years, a trend that was hastened by the pandemic. Last year, BCC cut a number of courses and faculty positions due to declining enrollment.

“We’re trying aggressively to use our funds that we’ve been given by the state to incentivize students to enroll,” Rizza said.

He said it’s too soon to say if BCC will continue offering free tuition in the spring.

Berkeley City College will be hosting enrollment workshops for students at 10 a.m. on Aug. 11, 15, 22, and 25.

Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...