A roadmap to free college education
Despite the nationwide implementation of Republic Act 10931 or the “Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act”, the reality is that not all students wanting a free college education can avail of it this coming school year as only a few government universities and colleges are accredited to offer the program.
While state universities and colleges (SUCs) are automatically qualified to give free tertiary education, only local universities and colleges (LUCs) approved by the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) as an institution and whose educational programs are also approved by Ched are covered by RA 10931.
LUCs are educational institutions established by local government units through an ordinance and other enabling acts. Not all LUCs are recognized by Ched.
In Central Visayas, the list of eligible SUCs and LUCs is short with only nine colleges and universities including four in Cebu namely: Cebu Normal College, Sibonga Community College, Cebu Technological University and Carcar City College.
The others are: Negros Oriental State University, Siquijor State College, Bohol Island State University, Buenavista Community College, and Trinidad Municipal College.
Before her graduation last month, 18-year-old Mary Ann Gutang was excited about going to college upon learning that the new RA 10931 now gives full tuition subsidy for students enrolled in SUCs, LUCs, and state-run technical-vocational schools.
Gutang, a resident of Carcar City southern Cebu, wanted to enrol in the nearby Sibonga Community College, one of the nine universities and colleges in Central Visayas qualified to offer free tertiary education under the law’s guidelines.
But her excitement was short lived.
Gutang was worried when told that she first needed to pass an admission’s test and maintain a certain average to be able to avail of the free tuition and miscellaneous fees.
“Wala ko kahibaw nga naa pa kay agi-an nga ingon ana bag-o ka maka-kuha sa free tuition (I did not know that I’d have to undergo certain things before I could avail of the free tuition),” said Gutang whose mother earns a living by tending other people’s pigs.
“I’d like to take up I.T. (Information Technology). But the course is really expensive so I’m hoping I could study for free,” Gutang said in Cebuano.
Under RA 10931, among other disqualifications, a student cannot avail of free tuition and miscellaneous fees in SUCs and LUCs if he/she is unable to comply with the admission or retention policies of the SUC or LUC.
How free is free
In an interview with Cebu Daily News, Sibonga Community College (SCC) President Antonio Camomot pointed out that even before the law was passed, SUCs and LUCs already required students to pass a test for admission.
Acting Ched Chairperson Dr. Prospero de Vera III in a visit to Cebu last month further explained that the law gives K-12 graduates options to choose from.
Aside from SUCs and LUCs, where an admissions test is required, they can enrol in government accredited technical-vocational institutes.
“Ang ginagawa ng batas (what the law does) is that it opens all options to graduates of K-12. Bahala na ang graduate ano yung gagawin niya sa buhay niya (It’s up to the graduate what he wants to do with his life). It is not just SUCs ang option,” de Vera said.
“This is not a license to accept everyone to universities and colleges,” de Vera was also quoted as saying during the launching of the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRRs).
The government has allotted P40 billion to cover the first full year of implementation of RA 10931.
The law provides for free tuition and other school fees to SUCs and LUCs.
Ched-7 Director Dr. Freddie Bernal said that as of April only four LUCs were included in the list.
These are Sibonga Community College and Carcar City College in Cebu and Buenavista Community College and Trinidad Municipal College in Bohol.
Other LUCs in the region also applied for eligibility; but their applications remain pending as of this time.
But RA 10931 does not only offer the free higher education and Technical-Vocational Education Training (TVET) programs.
It also has two other programs which can be availed of by those who cannot get into SUCs and LUCs.
The law also offers a Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) and a Student Loans Program for all college students; as well as those aiming to take up Masters.
Humabon Marollano, regional coordinator of the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education Act (UniFAST), the implementing government agency of RA 10931, explained that these two components were meant to address the problem of students who cannot avail of the free higher education program in SUCs and LUCs.
“These components (TES and student loans) are available because we want to emphasize on the universal access to quality education, hence the name of the law. We have considered the absorptive capacity of the SUCs and LUCs,” explained Marollano.
According to Marollano, TES is a subsidy given to poor but deserving college students whether enrolled in government-run institutions or private universities and colleges.
For those studying in SUCs or LUCs, this will be given on top of the free tuition and other school fees.
Those who will avail of the free higher education program will get P4,000 each month for 10 months for a total of P 40,000; while those studying in private schools will get P60,000, or P6,000 each month for 10 months.
Marollano explained that students enrolled in SUCs and LUCs will get less than those enrolled in private schools because they no longer have to pay for all their school fees as these are already covered by the higher education program.
While those enrolled in private schools can use the subsidy to help pay for their tuition fees.
The release of TES is subject to the availability of funds and a prioritization scheme on who gets the subsidy.
The first priority will be students from the beneficiary households of government’s 4Ps program; second, are students included in the most recent updated “Listahan of the Department of Social Welfare and Development”; third, are students living in a municipality with no SUC or LUC and with only one existing private university; and the last priority will be students belonging to the middle class.
Middle class applicants will have to present their parents’ income tax returns. Their application will also be reviewed by the UniFAST board.
Marollano said that they are still finalizing the application process for students studying in private schools but assured that TES can be availed of before the start of school year 2018-2019.
For the Student Loans Program, two types of loans will be made available — the short term and the long term.
The short term loan, which is payable at the end of the schoolyear, is intended for students whose college funding has been delayed or whose parents found themselves in a tight spot unable, for the moment, to pay for the college education of their children.
The long term loan is for students who cannot pay for a college education but got shut out in availing of the free higher education program; or students who wanted to study in private schools but could not afford it.
This loan will be payable only after the student has graduated and gotten a job with a salary of at least P250,000 annually.
Collecting agencies will be the SSS, GSIS, PhilHealth, BIR, POEA if the student gets a job abroad, and other government agencies which can determine the student’s salary per year.
Those who want to avail of the Student Loans Program would have to enrol first before applying for a loan at the university or college where they have enrolled.
Both financial subsidy programs are subject for approval by the UniFAST board.
For more information about the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, those interested can email [email protected]
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