College freshman studentsStudents across California are now able to access free community college classes for their freshman year, thanks to recent changes in the California Promise Grant. These changes have many students excited to start their academic career, while the same modifications to the grant now have educational administrators wondering where the funding will come from to provide for these classes.

The California Promise Grant was originally designed to provide low-income students with a first year of college, tuition free. Now, with the current legislation that Gov. Brown signed into law earlier this year, the grant fund will be opened to all freshman students matriculating into California Community Colleges, regardless of need. This in turn will open more doors for students who otherwise would not be able to attend college directly out of high school. In order to qualify for the grant money, the requirements are simple–you must be a freshman student, going to college for the first time, and be enrolled on a full-time course of study. Legislators around the state are enthusiastically hailing the legislative bill AB 19 as remarkable progress that will lead the way for free education throughout America.

Administrative and community officials, however, are more cautious in their optimistic approach. For example, Gov. Brown’s very own Department of Finance opposed this bill that would open Californian community colleges to the 1.2 million students in the state. The reason? The funding for this program is yet to be found. Simply put, the loss of student revenues without an increase in other areas of the college’s budgets will create massive deficits anywhere between $30 and $50 million. Those who support the bill are hopeful that they will see a plan to increase school funding in the Governor’s proposed budget for 2018-19.

With this grant fund, incoming freshman students will be enabled, if all goes according to plan, to receive a full year of education without paying any tuition fees. While this will go a long way toward improving educational access in many communities, tuition is certainly not the cost that is keeping students from higher education. Books, for example, are outrageously expensive. Transportation is another major issue in many parts of California. The California Promise Grant stipulations are not clear as to whether the fund can be used for these other costs associated with college in addition to the tuition.

Many different programs in California are already paving the way for a state-wide push for free college education. In some parts of the state, programs are set up with their local cities that allow a portion of the local sales tax to be allocated to a general fund that is used to provide the free education. These funds are different from the California Promise Grant in that they are already covering more than just tuition cost–things like textbooks and supplies for the free school year. In this way, barriers for students attempting to access education are dismantled so that all students have access. Colleges are reporting that those participating in these programs are seeing increased enrollment, but are careful to mention that long-term success will not be measurable for several years.

California is leading the way for the rest of the country to follow suit, but there are still many challenges ahead for the new California Promise Grant Program. As long as legislators continue to work on funding the program, it will be able to move forward as planned and offer thousands of new college students a stress-free, hassle-free entrance into college life. This in turn will empower these students to continue with their college education, thus improving the lives of themselves, their families, and their communities.