The True Cost of College: The New Push to Expand Financial Aid to California Community College Students College News

February 15, 2019

We know that many community college students face financial challenges and even with tuition waived, there is a lack of financial support to help them afford all of the other non-tuition costs of going to college. In fact, because of the disparity in financial aid options, the total cost of attending a California community college is often higher than UC or CSU.

Our system and our state now have an exciting opportunity to expand financial aid to community college students in a way that will provide the help they need to succeed in college and create a more balanced system of aid across California’s three public higher education segments. Under newly proposed legislation, students with the most financial need would now have access to a new aid program that addresses built-in inequities of existing state and federal aid policies and helps cover the non-tuition costs associated with pursuing higher education goals.

Senate Bill 291, introduced on February 14 by state Sen. Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino, seeks to establish a California Community College Student Financial Aid Program that would base aid not only on the cost of tuition, but on the total cost of attendance – including housing, transportation and textbooks. Awards would help cover expenses not being addressed by a student’s family contributions, employment, and other aid, such as Pell Grants and the Cal Grant program. In addition, financial aid would be available whether a student is seeking a degree, certificate, or short-term career education program.

While our state has led the nation in innovative programs like the California College Promise Grant, which waives tuition for roughly 50 percent of our students, other financial aid options fall short of covering non-tuition costs that make up the majority of student expenses. Even with tuition waived, financial challenges remain the greatest obstacle to college completion.

The actual cost of attending a community college for a student living independently is more than $20,000 annually when you consider housing, transportation, textbooks and personal items. As financial aid programs are structured today, a California community college student receiving the maximum amount of aid possible would still face a deficit of more than $6,000. Very few community college students qualify for financial aid to cover non-tuition costs and low-income students with unmet financial need have limited choices: work more hours, take fewer courses, accumulate what can become crushing debt, or drop out of school.

Visit to learn more and join California community colleges, community leaders, legislators and students in supporting this important bill. SB 291 is co-authored by state senators Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica; Steven Bradford, D-Gardena; Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara; Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco; as well as assembly members Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, David Chiu, D-San Francisco, Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-San Bernardino and Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland.