Bay Area Students Demand Free College Tuition

By Claudia Drdul


City College student organizers refused to remain inactive over the summer as they joined the national “College for All” initiative in support of free state tuition.

Michelle Do, Tiffany Jade Ho and Angela Santelices, all students involved in City College’s Student Assembly, joined San Francisco Rising’s Summer Rising Fellowship. The fellowship is made up of activists from across the greater Bay Area hoping to “give local college students a platform to voice struggles and concerns on the current accessibility and unaffordability of higher education in our state’s public colleges”. 

Arlyn Rosales signs up to phone bank for the “College For All” initiative upon hearing of the groups successes in connecting with Bay Area voters at the August 1 open-mic night. Photo by Claudia Drdul/The Guardsman.

Do explained her involvement in the initiative by saying “If we had access to school for free, we wouldn’t end up struggling as much in life. College can be free.”

Although Do and other City College organizers have access to free tuition if they reside in San Francisco, they acknowledge the importance of expanding the program Free City has established.

The coalition spent the summer working with various community organizations to phone bank, outreach and create interactive events in order to draw in more support from the local voting community.

SF Rising, itself, is described as an “electoral alliance that builds the political power of working-class communities of color in San Francisco” that is made up of 10 parent organizations focused on social justice. 


On August 1, the fellowship hosted an open-mic night in the historic Women’s Building inside the Mission District, which drew in a crowd of more than 30 students from the southern UC Riverside to the northern Academy of Art University. 

Former Academy of Art student, Jewel Ross, participates in the networking portion of the “College For All Open- Mic Night” event in the Audre Lorde Room in the Women’s Building. Photo by Claudia Drdul/The Guardsman

Justin Carson, a San Francisco State student who has been organizing with the SF Rising Coalition, led the information portion of the open-mic night because he felt concerned by the current educational funding system California has in place: “It’s difficult to find a student loan, explain to your parents the loan, while not understanding the language. It’s communicating to your parents while not knowing all the facts. This process should not be this hard”. 

Arlyn Rosales of UC Riverside elaborated by saying “There’s this added pressure of understanding the financial aid system yourself, when your parents are immigrants and English is not their first language.” 

However, College for All offers a solution to the current United States financial aid system. “If we were to tax the wealthiest two percent, an additional 2.5 million students would be able to go to college for free. Anyone who has that much money, has gotten it by exploiting others” said SF Rising Field organizer Celi Tamayo-Lee. 

Oakland musician AR The Believer performs “We Making Waves”, a highly politicized mix of hip-hop and electronica at the August 1 College For All Open-Mic Night. Photo by Claudia Drdul/The Guardsman

Students used the space to perform original music, display art pieces and recite poems about their experiences not being able to afford college tuition. The themes were common among each piece; the inability to afford tuition, and therefore performing poorly in class. 

Jewel Ross, a former Academy of Art student led a passionate “the real cost of art school is being verbally abused by your department director because you couldn’t finish your final on time, because your job made you work the holiday rush, and you got sick, and you’re only human.”

In his spoken word piece, Kevin Caldron of Stanford University noted that “the movement is a wave, each drop of water is what counts. College used to be free in California… why can’t it be free again?”

“Up until the 1970s, public higher education in California was enshrined as a democratic right and effectively tuition-free.  For decades, we’ve watched politicians cut funding, raise tuition, and push more and more students deeper into debt, all while handing out tax breaks to the wealthiest Californians,” according to the College for All CA website. 

City College dance professor Kathy Burick received free tuition while attending college in California in 1973 and believes that students should have hope for the future, receiving free college tuition when she attended City College in 1973, giving students hope for the future; “we are all unstoppable, because college for all is possible.”

The Guardsman