Protect the vital Free City College program from deep cuts by the City

free-city-walls-torn-down-free-tuition-register-today-poster, Protect the vital Free City College program from deep cuts by the City, Local News & Views

San Francisco – The City and County of San Francisco may soon be making cuts to the Free City College program, which is funded by Proposition W, a municipal tax on property transfers worth over $5 million that was adopted into law in 2016. Although the tax generates $30 to $38 million per year for the City and County of San Francisco – and the Free City College program currently receives only about half that amount – the City is considering further reducing its contribution to the program.

Under a proposal by the City and County of San Francisco, starting in 2025 only certain courses that contribute to specific educational plans may be eligible for free enrollment. Exact details will be proposed later this year by the City.

Furthermore, proposed city budget cuts, if approved, could reduce Free City College funding from $18.9 million in 2023-24 to just $9.3 million in 2024-25 and $7.2 million by 2025-26. Reserve funding for the Free City College program, which has previously been used for student debt relief, is also on the chopping block.

Negotiations in 2019 led to the adoption of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between City College and the City and County of San Francisco that funded the program for a decade. The MOU began funding the program at $15 million in 2019-20, $15.7 million in 2020-21, $16.4 million in 2021-22 and then continued with annual increases based on inflation until 2029.

“We need to save the Free City College program so that we can continue to provide accessible quality education for San Franciscans from all walks of life wanting to advance themselves,” said Alan Wong, who serves as president of the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees and co-chair of the Free City College Oversight Committee. 

“In 2019, the City signed an agreement to fully fund the program for 10 years after voters passed a measure to pay for it. The City already contributes less than half the money from Proposition W to the Free City College program. Retracting on Free City College in the middle of the agreement will disrupt the educational plans of our students. We will strongly advocate to protect the Free City College program from cuts and maintain stability for our students.” 

As a City Hall education policy advisor in 2019, Wong worked on drafting and passing the legislation currently guaranteeing a decade of Free City College for all San Franciscans that the City is now considering reneging on. 

“The Free City College program has helped me and all my classmates at City College be able to academically achieve or get job training while having to pay bills and care for family,” said Siwei Tang, City College’s past Associated Student Body student chancellor. “Cutting this program would deny opportunity and access for so many in our community to move ahead in their lives and careers.”

Students enroll at City College for many different pathways. There are high school graduates aiming to transfer to four-year universities, career-minded students looking for job training, immigrants wanting to learn English, high school students earning college credit, and seniors engaging in lifelong learning.

In addition to associate degrees, City College also has vocational training and certificates for those looking to become child care providers, firefighters, registered nurses, x-ray technicians, cooks and police officers.

“City College has balanced its budget with a 5% reserve for the last several fiscal years and received an independent financial audit with no negative findings for the first time in 25 years,” said Wong. “Despite a 10% increase in enrollment this academic year, adding 1,000 full-time students, City College’s enrollment and budget are still fragile. Accreditors have warned that the college must prepare for long-range fiscal challenges, including a revenue freeze beginning in the 2025-26 fiscal year that will remain until City College can significantly increase enrollment enough to receive cost-of-living adjustments under a newly enacted state funding formula. Cutting the Free City College program now would disrupt the good progress we have made and destabilize the college.”

The Free City College program is a partnership between City College and the City and County of San Francisco that provides tuition assistance for City College students who have established California residency for over a year and live in San Francisco. It covers the $46 enrollment fee per unit. Students already receiving other enrollment fee waivers receive a grant that is $46 for each credit unit in which they are enrolled.

Alan Wong, president of the City College Board of Trustees, can be reached at