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Free college education

By: Johnny Dayang

Time was when earning a university degree was only a wild wish for children of impoverished families in rustic barrios. It was not even a serious dream to aspire for since it was literally beyond their reach.

Today, college education has become readily accessible for even the poorest kids, with the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act of 2017 crafted primarily by visionary leader Albay Rep. Joey Salceda.

President Duterte signed the law, RA 10931 last month amidst doubts on the government’s capability to fund its huge costs since the measure did not identify specific fund sources for it. Happily the House Appropriations Committee chaired by Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles and Salceda as senior vice chair, successfully realigned some P41 billion in the 2018 budget to fund its implementation starting next year.

Salceda pioneered the free college tuition scheme under his Universal Access to College Education program in Albay where he was provincial governor for nine years until 2016. The program had helped 88,888 students in completing their studies and served as the “inclusive tool and key to Albay’s poverty reduction from 41% in 2007 to 17.1% in 2015.”

Based on lessons learned from his Albay program, he filed HB 2771 in Congress last year “to solve the continuing paradox that while college education helps us to escape poverty, Filipinos have to be rich to afford one.” His bill was merged with related bills by party-list Reps. Antonio Tinio (ACT) and Sarah Jane Elago (KABATAAN). The House-approved measure subsequently became RA 10931.

The salient components of RA 10931 include: Free Higher Education in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and Local Universities and Colleges (LUCs); Free Technical-Vocational Education and Training in Post-Secondary Technical-Vocational Institutions; Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) for Filipino Students, and; Student Loan Program (SLP) for Tertiary Education.

“Free SUCS is real. No tuition and miscellaneous expenses. Admission is the only requirement,” “No tuition in community colleges is real,” “Free techvoc in TESDA/LGU-run TVET is real,” Salceda posted successively in his social media account.

Many students in community colleges, however, will have to wait awhile since only 16 of the existing 111 LUCs have passed CHED accreditation.

RA 10931 gives priority to poor but academically able students and provides some R1.3 billion in student loans for those in the lowest 30% who may need additional financial resources in pursuing their college studies.

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