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Mayor Eric Garcetti promises free community-college tuition as Jill Biden helps launch L.A. initiative

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Los Angeles College Promise will provide one year of tuition at any of the nine L.A. Community College District campuses to all full-time enrolled qualifying students graduating from LAUSD and charter high schools, starting in 2017.

Speaking in a theater packed with cheering students, Mayor Eric Garcetti reiterated his promise Wednesday to make one year of community college free for eligible high school graduates, beginning next year.

Inside the doors of Los Angeles City College’s El Camino Theater, a band played while staff distributed promotional T-shirts to high school and community college students in the audience. Onstage, elected officials congratulated each other on the launch of the plan, L.A. College Promise, and on drawing the attention of their high-profile guest: Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden and a longtime educator. The program held enormous potential, everyone agreed.

But five months after the mayor dropped a mention of the free-tuition proposal into his annual State of the City speech, Garcetti had few details to offer. Without saying how the city would cover the cost of free tuition at L.A.’s nine community colleges or what the eligibility requirements might be, the mayor heaped on more promises.

“This is more than just tuition,” he said. “This is about books and transportation and discounts on our buses and our rail lines. This is about making sure there’s counseling and support.”

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti introduces the L.A. College Promise proposal as Jill Biden, right, looks on at Los Angeles City College.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti introduces the L.A. College Promise proposal as Jill Biden, right, looks on at Los Angeles City College.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )

Garcetti’s announcement, though short on specifics, resembles President Obama’s proposal in his 2015 State of the Union address to offer two free years of community college to all U.S. students. It represents the mayor’s most direct attempt yet to shape public education in the city, while allowing him to maintain a safe distance from L.A. Unified, a system of 642,000 students over which he has no authority. Garcetti has been criticized for not being as involved in public education as his predecessor.

In its first year, the program is expected to cost $3 million. According to the mayor’s office, Garcetti has raised $1.75 million, with the remainder to come from the L.A. Community College District.

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Exactly how many of L.A.’s public school students could benefit from the mayor’s proposal remains unclear.

In 2015, the public school system graduated about 30,000 students. Although district officials were not able to provide the most recent number of graduates for the class of 2016, they have boasted a graduation rate of 75%, a record in the city’s modern history.

L.A. Unified Supt. Michelle King said that of the class of 2015, 37% went on to attend local community colleges.

“We will expand that percentage,” King said at the mayor’s rally. “No longer will our students have to worry about the financial burdens of what to do about college; they can focus on their education. They will have a seat in a community college in L.A.”

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Students at L.A. charter schools also will be able to participate in the program, district officials said.

anna.phillips@latimes.com

Twitter: @annamphillips


UPDATES:

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7:55 p.m.: This article has been updated with details on the proposal’s cost.

This article was first published at 2:05 p.m.


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