United States

4 East Bay community colleges offer financial incentives to boost enrollment

OAKLAND (KPIX) — Since the pandemic, many community colleges have seen a decline in enrollment. Four city colleges in Oakland, Alameda and Berkeley are trying to incentivize students to return by offering free tuition.

“I’ve already registered and it’s going to be free for me,” said Omolola Atolagbe, the Laney College student body president.

Atolagbe is studying film production and hopes to earn enough credits to transfer next year.

“UCLA is actually my first choice,” Atolagbe said. “Right from childhood, I’ve always wanted to be in front of the camera but this time around, I’m trying to go behind the camera so I’ll be able to have a vast knowledge about film production.”

That goal is getting a financial boost for this fall semester. Through Laney’s “Fall is Free” tuition program, Atolagbe’s three classes are free and she doesn’t have to pay campus fees. That’s a savings of about $500.

“I’ll be able to save a lot of money. At the same time, I’ll be able to add more units, like more classes, because it’s free,” Atolagbe said.

“And not just textbooks, if you’re a culinary student, we will cover the knife kit. If you’re a cosmetology student, we will cover the kit that’s required for that program as well. That includes bus passes, free lunch and produce boxes, Chromebooks and we’re working on some (internet) hot spots,” said Larena Baldazo, a spokeswoman at Laney College.

All four Peralta Community College District campuses have seen big drops in enrollment. The district lost roughly 5,000 full time students since the pandemic, from 17,392 students in the 2019 academic year to 12,438 students in the 2021-2022 academic year — a 28 percent decline.

Peralta District spokesman Mark Johnson said that, aside from Laney, Berkeley City College, Merritt College and Alameda College are offering similar incentives. Merritt College for example is giving qualified students $500 to pay for tuition and another $500 to pay for housing.

“We’ll re-evaluate for spring to see if there’s money left and if the program was successful and how we might keep it going,”  Johnson said.

Peralta educators said any California students who fill out financial aid forms, even if their income is too high, will get free tuition for the fall semester.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For many people, the financial aspect is a reason they don’t either start school or go back to school,” Baldazo said.

Atolagbe, who works full time, said free tuition means one less thing to worry about.

“It’s a very good experience for me and the sky is just the beginning for me,” Atolagbe said.

The free tuition and money are only for California students. It’s funded by the federal  CARES Act.

Out-of-state students and international students do not qualify for the incentives.

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