California’s community colleges are open to all comers. There are no admission requirements and no grade point standards. All community colleges offer financial assistance programs. These programs generally are geared to income level, not disability, but they can cover everything from full academic course loads to limited technical programs or even single courses.
There are 109 community colleges in the statewide system, and nearly 27 in and around Los Angeles County. Los Angeles Community College, Glendale, and Santa Monica are only a few. Normally, community college tuition runs about $20 per unit, or $240 per semester for full course loads. A single course would cost $60 plus fees.
The main source of financial assistance is called the Board of Governors’ Fee Waiver program. Under this state program, all tuition, registration and student health fees are automatically waived for anyone on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), General Relief, or CalWORKS (welfare). People with HIV on State Disability or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) may also qualify for automatic waivers, if their incomes are under $7500 a year for singles, $15,000 with dependent spouses or children. The same applies even if your income is from wages, not disability benefits.
If your income from benefits or wages is higher, the fee waiver is not automatic. Instead, the community colleges screen for eligibility. In general, an income under $14,700, depending on other factors like assets, age, dependents, etc., would qualify for at least some financial aid. If you collect Social Security benefits, and qualify for even one dollar in aid, level C of the BOG Fee Waiver takes care of all tuition and fees.
Whether you want full- or part-time classes, if you are HIV, stop by the Disabled Student Center at any community college first, before you register. And stop by early, way before registration. The Disabled Student Centers will need some medical documentation on your disability: medical records, a letter from your physician, or even APLA’s medical registration form.
If you qualify for their assistance, the Disabled Student Centers will help complete your application for financial aid. They will need proof of your benefits. A printout from Social Security, or a bank statement with direct deposit will do. If you are on SSI, they probably will not have to look any further. If you are on SSDI, or State Disability, or if you work but fall into a low-income category, they may need additional documentation. They consider property, investments, etc. You are only required to show financial documentation once a year. If you qualify for a fee waiver, they may also help you apply for other financial assistance for books, bus passes, transportation, parking discounts or anything else related to your disability. The Disabled Student Centers also help with registration. Go in November for January registration, or as early as May or June for September registration. They can speed you through “priority registration” to make sure you get the classes you want, when you want them. They also provide vocational and academic counseling, if you need help choosing your courses. Once you enroll at a community college, the Disabled Student Centers offer classroom support if it is related to your disability. For instance, if your health keeps you from class, they can provide note-takers or record the lectures you missed, or buy you extra time to complete exams if you cannot keep up with the regular schedule. The Disabled Student Centers can also write Social Security Plans to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) plans. PASS plans are complicated and confusing, unless you know what you are doing. They allow you to use your benefits, or other income, to pay for education, training, or even set yourself up in business.
Students who qualify for the fee waiver may also qualify for Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS). It is a program to help low income students gain academic and personal success. Text books are often the most expensive cost of attending community college classes. EOPS can pay for books with book vouchers. Additional services include counseling, priority registration, tutoring, assistance with scholarships and four year transfer information.
If you attend a community college and need work, stop by the Job Placement Center. All the schools offer placement services to full- and part-time students, and can help you complete the process of heading off to work. For additional information, call the community college in your area and ask for the number for the Disabled Student Center.