SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — The fees to attend California’s community colleges are by far the lowest in the U.S. — less than half the national average — yet at least 40 percent of the 2.4 million students in the nation’s largest higher education system pay nothing at all.

The reasons? A financial aid program and a half-century-old vision that made affordability and open access the chief aim of the two-year schools.

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After steep state spending cuts forced colleges to reduce course offerings and turn students away, college leaders, lawmakers and experts are questioning whether California can afford it.

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The 112-college system’s governing board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a plan that would require students to maintain at least a C-average to remain eligible for a fee waiver.

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