Although Hancock College has already committed to providing a free first year through its Hancock Promise program, a new bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday could provide future students with a second year of free college starting in fall 2019.

Much like the Hancock Promise program, Assembly Bill 19 establishes the California College Promise, which would waive tuition and fees for first-time students enrolled in 12 or more units.

While specifics regarding the bill's implementation are murky, Hancock College Superintendent/President Kevin Walthers said the administrators intend to use the California College Promise as a way to supplement the Hancock Promise program.

"There are still a lot of questions to be answered, but we feel like it will be rolled out in a way that we can give those first-year students the state promise program with the Hancock Promise Program coming in for year two," he said.

According to Walthers, providing financial assistance to students through both years of college was the long-term goal of the Hancock Promise program.

"We wanted to be able to tell students that we could take care of their first two years of tuition and fees. The fact that we can now get funding from the state to do that is fantastic," Walthers said.

Estimates indicate the California College Promise will cost between $30 and $50 million, with details regarding the program's funding to be sorted out during the state budget cycle for the next fiscal year. Despite the uncertainty, Walthers welcomed the news of Brown's decision to sign Assembly Bill 19, touting it as a sign of California's commitment to providing affordable higher education.

"If you're over 40 years old and went to community college [in the state], then you didn't pay tuition and fees -- that was all covered as part of the way the state funded higher education," Walthers explained. "It's good to see that kind of an investment returning to higher education."

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California currently offers fee waivers for low-income students, though some colleges report that eligible students do not always apply. Under the new California College Promise, fee subsidies will be extended to all students, even those that do not apply for the fee waivers or exceed income eligibility requirements for other forms of state and federal financial aid.

While some have criticized the measure, Walthers said it ultimately will have a positive effect on the student population and will increase the amount of students enrolling in California community colleges.

"We've seen that when you remove [financial] barriers, enrollment increases," he said. "A lot of times the problem has been [explaining] financial aid to students. Now we can just say 'come in and enroll -- we've got your tuition covered.'"

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.