A view of the entrance of Berkeley City College in downtown Berkeley with a grey sky
Berkeley City College in downtown Berkeley. File photo: Melati Citrawireja

Berkeley City College announced Wednesday that it will extend its free college program for fall 2024, offering free tuition to all California residents.

The program, first launched in the fall and then extended through the spring, was designed to eliminate barriers to higher education and boost enrollment, which has been declining at community colleges across California. All of the Peralta community colleges, including Merritt and Laney colleges and College of Alameda, will again offer free tuition again in the fall.

The program has been funded by COVID-19 relief money, which the state granted an extension to spend. It’s not clear whether the program will be extended to spring 2024, but BCC spokesperson Tom Rizza said the school hopes the popular program can continue in the future.

Enrollment at BCC increased this year, even as community college enrollment has been declining throughout the state. Peralta officials attribute the trend to the free tuition program.

Enrollment at BCC ticked upward from 9,317 students in spring 2022 to 10,891 students this spring. The number of full-time equivalent students, a number that represents the equivalent number of students taking a full class load, also rose year-over-year from 1,123 to 1,318. 

Across the Peralta colleges, enrollment rose 11%, including a 20% increase in Black students, a 15% increase in Latinx students and a 9% increase in Asian American and Pacific Islander students.

“We’re so excited to be able to do this again this fall, because it’s such a terrific opportunity for students to earn credits they need to transfer to a four-year school,” said Dr. Angélica Garcia, President of Berkeley City College.

Only a handful of community colleges across the state offer free tuition, including Modesto Junior College. President Biden proposed making two years of community college free back in 2021, but idea has not come to fruition. Officials hope the program’s success at Peralta colleges can serve as a model for other community colleges or for legislation.

“It’s hopeful that what we’re doing here at Peralta, what some other colleges have done in California, can move the needle,” said Tom Rizza, a spokesperson for Berkeley City College.

The program at BCC only cost $250,000 in the fall and about $750,000 in the spring, far less than expected, since many students who applied were already eligible for financial aid through existing state and federal programs.

“Many of our students don’t know that they qualify for financial aid,” Rizza said. “If we could just get them to fill out that form … then we can come in and pick up the tab for people who don’t qualify.”

To qualify, students must live in California, and there is no minimum number of courses you must be enrolled in. Students who are undocumented also qualify.

To receive benefits, new and returning students must enroll and complete a FAFSACalifornia 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.

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, are all eligible for the free college program.

Enrollment for the fall semester is open and classes begin Aug. 21.

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,...