A diverse group of about a dozen people, some with backpacks, stand in in a plaza in front a tall building with a sign that reads "Laney College."
Students at Laney College in Oakland. Credit: courtesy of Laney College

Laney and Merritt colleges in Oakland are among the four Peralta Colleges offering free tuition this fall for a second year. The “Fall is Free” initiative is being funded by a state COVID-recovery grant for California community colleges, whereas the past two free semesters were supported by an emergency grant from the U.S. Department of Education. 

New and returning students, and those who qualify for the California nonresident tuition exemption, commonly known as AB 540, are eligible. International students are not. 

Qualifying students will also receive free AC Transit bus passes, health services, and other resources.

To take part, eligible students must enroll and complete either the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the California Dream Act application (for undocumented students). Those who don’t qualify for federal financial aid can still take advantage of the free tuition program. 

How to contact a counselor at each campus

Classes at all four Peralta Colleges start on Aug. 21. Students can add courses without an instructor’s approval through Aug. 27 and with an instructor’s approval between Aug. 28 and Sept. 1. Peralta schools also offer 93 “late start” classes, which students can enroll in later in the fall.

The Peralta Colleges offer over 800 classes, and once enrolled, students can register for courses at any of the four campuses.

According to Peralta District officials, enrollment during the spring 2022 semester was up 11-12% at each campus over the previous year. There were 20,000 students across all four campuses, with 2,000 first-time students. 

Some of the most popular courses during the “free” semesters have included those in culinary arts and business management at Laney College, cybersecurity and horticulture at Merritt College, apparel design and aircraft at the College of Alameda, and media arts and biology at Berkeley City College. 

On Saturday, Aug. 19, both Laney College (from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and the College of Alameda (from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) will host in-person events to assist prospective students with completing the required paperwork.

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.