Bernie Sanders holds up free City College as model

With the fall semester at City College of San Francisco in full swing, city and college officials are still glowing after emerging from an accreditation crisis and now offering a free college education to San Francisco residents.

On Friday at the CCSF Ocean Campus inside a packed Diego Rivera Theatre, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) praised The City for making tuition free for students, saying that free public education in the nation is not just about elementary, middle and high school anymore, but that it now should also include public colleges:

“You are becoming a model for the United States of America.”

Sanders added:

“Because [don’t] you think that young people and working people and parents all over the country, are not asking their local officials, ‘Hey how come in San Francisco they can make college tuition free. Why don’t you do it in our community.’ That is what they’re doing.”

Anyone should be able to go to college no matter what a family’s income level is, said Sanders:

“What we are saying today, and the example this college is setting, is that everyone who has the desire and the ability, should be able to get a higher education regardless of the income of that family.”

According to enrollment from figures from the college, full-time students taking credit courses increased from 23,239 students in the fall 2016 to 27,122 this fall.

San Francisco residents living in California for at least one year are able to save on tuition thanks to a ballot measure last year sponsored by Supervisor Jane Kim. Sanders had also supported the ballot measure.

Sixty-two percent of San Francisco voters passed Proposition W, which increased the transfer sales tax on sales of residential and commercial properties of at least $5 million.

Kim said it was important that people have place to continue learning, especially in a job market where technology is constantly changing, from driverless vehicles to advance medical instruments:

“Community college is the only institution in our nation that is dedicated to lifelong learning.”

While many faculty and students were celebrating, many remember just a few years ago in 2012 when the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges threatened to revoke the college’s accreditation, which put the college in peril.

Leone Andrew, an art teacher at City College, recalls that dark time when enrollment dropped, fewer courses were offered, and the college was fighting the “rogue” accreditation commission.

Andrew said after the long battle with the accreditation commission, and now with some students able to come to the college for free, the Art department saw enrollment increase 35 percent this fall:

“Right away we realize this is making more opportunities for students.”

CCSF student Lauren Haggins, a single mother of two children who is studying real estate, said tuition was one less thing to worry about:

“A lot of us have the time, motivation, but we don’t have the funds.”

Haggins added:

“Sometimes the scholarships and grants don’t cover it all.”

Sanders at the event also criticized President Donald Trump for how the is leading the nation in issues like health care, education, climate change, and Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action Childhood Services program.

Before the CCSF event, the Vermont senator and 2016 presidential candidate was at the Yerba Buena Center promoting his Medicare For All plan with nurses from the California Nurses Association.