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Despite promises from state leaders that the first two years of community college education will be free for California students, students returning to Hancock College this fall for their second year will still be faced with a bill.

Funding for the California College Promise, which was established in 2017 after former Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 19, was expanded by Gov. Gavin Newsom's recently adopted state budget. While some districts plan to use their allocation of the roughly $85 million fund to waive two years of fees for first time full-time students, Hancock College President Kevin Walthers said the college will only provide fee waivers for the first year.

"Unfortunately, because of the calculation methodology used by the state, our funding level will not provide sufficient funds for a second year," Walthers wrote in an email.

Hancock College received roughly $256,000 from Gov. Brown's initial $46 million apportionment, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, the agency tasked with administering the fund. That amount, according to a report on the state budget presented last week to Hancock's board of trustees, covered "only about half of the cost for one year."

Though Newsom's 2019-20 budget allocated an additional $42 million in state funding for California's 114 community colleges, the portion Hancock will receive has yet to be determined. The college is also not required to use the funding to subsidize fees: AB-19 allows individual districts to use the funding to meet the legislation's various goals, from providing grants for childcare and transportation to increasing staffing for academic and support services.

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Walthers said the college is currently using state funds to support the Hancock Promise program as the college works toward finishing its five-year campaign to build a sustainable endowment. Executive Director for College Advancement Jon Hooten estimates the program needs a $10 million investment to ensure its long-term viability.

"The Hancock Promise is our primary focus because it is locally funded by our community partners," Walthers wrote.

The college is also exploring other opportunities — possibly vouchers for textbooks — to further offset the cost of education for its students. Should the college complete its endowment, or if the state recalculates their allocation to meet their actual costs, Walthers said he foresees the college working on other affordability issues.

"It’s also important to note that the Promise is bringing in many students who would not have come to college because of costs," he added. "Once they get here, they see that they are eligible for additional support through Pell Grants or state programs. So, the Promise of free tuition quickly turns into a program that is more than just the first year free."

Reach reporter Mathew Burciaga at 805-739-2205 or mburciaga@leecentralcoastnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @mathewburciaga

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Education Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.