View from an empty road with small trees lining it. The Laney College building stands behind it.
Outside Laney College. September 1, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos

Updated, Nov. 16, 5:18 p.m.

Students enrolling in upcoming spring classes at Laney College in Oakland won’t have to pay any tuition, the school announced on Tuesday. It’ll be the second straight semester that the college is waiving tuition and offering other benefits as a way to ease the financial burden felt by many students during the pandemic. 

Peralta Community College District followed up with a separate announcement on Wednesday that classes will also be free at its three other East Bay colleges: Merritt College, Berkeley City College, and College of Alameda.

To qualify, students must reside in California and have either completed a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) or California Dream Act application. There is no minimum unit requirement.

In addition to waiving tuition, the program provides free textbooks and bus fare, access to meals and produce boxes, and covers student health fees. Students can also receive Chromebooks on loan from the college. 

Patricia Maldonado, 30, is taking three classes at Laney College this semester to fulfill the nursing program requirements for Samuel Merritt University, where she hopes to transfer in spring 2024. The Oakland resident was persuaded to enroll by a friend who works at Laney after the college announced last summer that its fall semester would be free.

Maldonado, who holds a bachelor’s degree from CSU East Bay, said she’d been putting off going back to school, in part due to the pressures of needing to work and make ends meet. 

“It’s just given me a little space to breathe,” she said of the free enrollment and additional resources. 

Maldonado was able to borrow a Chromebook to replace her computer that had broken over the summer. She’s also used the school’s free grocery giveaways that take place in the cafeteria on Wednesdays and Thursdays. 

“At the rate the market is going, with inflation, everyone is feeling a little pressed,” she said. “This has lessened the impact.”

Enrollment at Laney College grew to roughly 9,700 students after the college waived tuition for the first time this past fall—an increase of 15% over the previous fall semester, according to a statement released by the school. Students last fall received over 12,000 free meals, 3,700 produce boxes, and 1,450 laptops on loan.

The college is paying for the program through a combination of federal emergency relief funds and a state COVID-relief grant, according to school officials.

Registration for spring classes began Nov. 14 and the spring semester begins Jan. 23. The college is holding in-person information sessions to help students enroll and fill out financial aid forms. Those will take place on:

● Thursday, Dec. 15: 12:30-1:30 p.m. and 6:00-7:00 p.m.

● Friday, Dec. 16: 12:30-1:30 p.m.

● Tuesday, Jan. 10: 12:30-1:30 p.m.

● Thursday, Jan. 11: 12:30-1:30 p.m. and 6:00-7:00 p.m.

More information about the free semester program at Laney College can be found here.

Jacob Simas is Managing Editor of The Oaklandside. He joined us from Univision, where he led social-impact initiatives and established the Rise Up: Be Heard journalism training program at Fusion for young people and community organizers in underserved areas of California. He was a senior editor and director of youth and community media at New America Media, where he led a community news network that amplified student and youth reporting in California news deserts. He is an advisory board member for Youth Beat, a graduate of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and a former producer with KPFA's First Voice apprenticeship program.