By Julie Watts

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — You can now get two years of free community college in California. Governor Gavin Newsom went to Cosumnes River College Tuesday to tout the program. To qualify, graduating seniors must be first-time, full-time students taking at least 12 units per semester. The state has already been paying for the first year and is now providing $42.6 million to cover the second year of free tuition. The money is coming from existing property taxes earmarked for education and general fund money that is being redistributed to pay for tuition.

An estimated 33,000 new students are eligible.

CBS13 researched how much students can save by living at home and taking their general education classes at a community college instead of going away to a state school or UC.

READ: Report Names San Joaquin Delta College California’s Best Community College

Community college tuition is just over $1,000 a year, so it turns out, even with free tuition, four years at a state school or UC could be cheaper for some when you factor in housing, food, fees, and available grants.

CBS13 crunched the numbers using Sac City, Sac State and UC Davis price calculators based on the median household income in our area, about $60,000.

We subtracted the tuition from the city college estimate since it’s now free. However, based on the income level, we also qualified for significant grants at both the State and UC schools.

For a student living at home with their parents and going to community college for two years before going away, could save $27,000 compared to four years living on-campus at a state school and $17,000 dollars over four years at a UC. The UC Davis Price calculator offered generous grants based on the income.

Community College Savings While Living at Home

Community College, Then State   $50,166
Four Years at State                          $77,560
                    $27,394 Savings!
Community College, Then UC  $40,654
Four Years at UC                         $58,536
                    $17,882 Savings!

But the key to the savings is living at home and according to the National Postsecondary Aid Study, three out of five community college students don’t live at home with their parents.

The California Student Aid Commission finds that living off-campus can cost significantly more than living on campus or with parents. The difference is enough to wipe out any community college tuition savings.

Early this year, the Institute for College Access and Success ran a similar price comparison to ours. They found, for low-income students, community colleges across the state had a higher net cost than the UC or CSU counterparts in their regions.

Bottom line, the real community college savings appears to come from living at home. If you live on your own, you may be better off, financially, going straight to a four-year school and taking advantage of subsidized student housing.

Julie Watts