PLEASANT HILL (KPIX) – At a time when so many students are staggering under the weight of college debt, Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill is making a tempting offer: Free tuition. It’s a college program that seems like a no-brainer.

The program is called “First time, Full time, Free Tuition” or ‘FT3.’

First year resident college students simply sign a paper pledging to successfully complete at least 12 units per semester and their tuition will be refunded at the end of the year.

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Community college tuition is already much lower than most four-year universities but at DVC a student could save more than $1,200 with the program. Additionally, DVC students even have priority status when transferring to the UC system after two years.

At DVC, that would average about $1200.

The district’s Financial Aid Director, Tim Bonnel, says the state is looking to the future with this program.

“All of the research is pointing to the fact that we need to start filling the pipeline and getting students through their 2-year programs and their 4-year programs and ready and trained and in the workforce, because there’s such a demand,” Bonnel.

The program came out right before last school year so a lot of students still don’t know about it. But Sean Coughlin from San Ramon has taken the FT3 pledge and says it is a good incentive to work quickly toward his Graphic Arts degree, although it sounds like he should be majoring in economics.

“A lot of my friends, they went to 4-year schools and are in a lot of student debt and they had to take out a lot of student loans,” he said. “But, going to DVC, I have no student loans right now…and I’ll be able to transfer pretty much with a clean slate.”

Those completing the two year program at DVC even get a priority track into UC Berkeley. School officials say it’s a smart way of getting the same premium education without all the debt.

“They don’t put a little asterisk on your diploma that says, ‘went to a community college,’” said Bonnel. “You’re a UC graduate whether you went there for four years or for the last two.”

The free tuition offer isn’t just at DVC, it’s actually available at community colleges across California and it may be getting even sweeter. A bill currently in the Legislature would offer free tuition for the first TWO years of community college.

Bonnel says if that bill — AB2 — is approved by the Legislature, it could make two-year, free tuition available as soon as the Fall semester.

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