This East Bay college offers one semester of free tuition and other benefits to most students


An East Bay community college is offering a semester of free tuition and many other benefits to most of its students in the coming months – a nod to the ongoing challenges they face due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 19, officials said.

Laney College, near Lake Merritt in Oakland, announced Wednesday that students who complete the Federal Student Aid FAFSA Application or the California Dream Act Application can receive free tuition, textbooks, health fees for students, bus passes, meals, weekly produce boxes, and rental Chromebooks for the fall semester.

Students who complete either application are eligible whether or not they have been eligible for financial aid in the past, according to a news release. International students are not eligible.

“Now more than ever, we need to recognize that tuition fees that go beyond tuition are barriers to success for so many students, whether they are part-time working adults or college graduates. high school,” Laney College President Rudy Besikof said in a statement.

“Everything (our students) were struggling with before the pandemic was 10 times worse because of COVID,” said Larena Baldazo, public information officer at Laney College. “This effort really serves to ensure that students have one less obstacle in their path…we know our communities go through a lot.”

A student walks up the stairs to the main campus of Laney College in Oakland, Calif., Friday, Aug. 31, 2018.

Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

With approximately 17,000 students enrolled each year, the community college is the largest of four in the Peralta Community College District, which also includes Berkeley City College, Merritt College, and College of Alameda. Laney College offers associate degrees, certificates, and associate degrees for transfer.

Enrollment in the college and in the district as a whole has declined significantly in recent years, Baldazo said, adding that the pandemic has made barriers to education even more complicated.

Financial aid fraud has also plagued the district in recent years, which is part of why the college uses the FAFSA form process, Baldazo said.

During the pandemic, a flurry of robots and “ghost students” reportedly flooded the district’s registration system in a bid to raise financial aid, Oakandside reported. More than 3,000 fraudulent applications passed through the application process — and more than $179,000 in aid was distributed as a result, Peralta Colleges’ board of trustees said at a meeting last September.

The neighborhood’s troubles, however, go back even further.

In July 2019, a state tax review found the district was at high risk of insolvency due to years of mismanagement, The Chronicle reported. Peralta was placed on probation in January 2020 after accreditors said the college failed to address key fiscal and management programs that included a structural deficit.

Last June, an Alameda County grand jury report found high levels of dysfunction among district administrators, including racial insensitivity and secret meetings that violated the Brown Law, The Chronicle reported.

Total enrollment has fallen nearly 20% over the past decade, The Chronicle reported last year.

Students interested in the free tuition program can find information about the Fall is Free program online at or call the Fall is Free Helpline at 510-255-3507.

Annie Vainshtein (her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @annievain


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