Thursday, April 5, 2012

2-Tier Tuition at a community college?

The NY Times reports on what some are finding a repugnant transaction, and others see as the only way to avoid further cuts: 2-Year College, Squeezed, Sets 2-Tier Tuition

"SANTA MONICA, Calif. — For years now, administrators at the community college here have been inundated with woeful tales from students unable to register for the courses they need. Classes they want for essential job training or to fulfill requirements to transfer to four-year universities fill up within hours. ...

"Now, though, Santa Monica College is about to try something novel. This summer it will offer some courses for a higher price, so that students who are eager to get into a particular class can do so if they pay more. ...

"Since 2009, enrollment in California community colleges has fallen by 300,000 students, to 2.6 million, and many believe the difficulty of registering for classes is the most important deterrent.

"For generations, community colleges have been seen as a social equalizer, providing a relatively inexpensive education for poor students, immigrants and others without the skills, grades or money to attend a four-year institution.

"So the two-tiered tuition structure being proposed here is raising eyebrows, and fundamental questions, about the role and obligations of community colleges. Will the policy essentially block some of the people it is designed to benefit? Many students believe the new policy — if the state does not block its implementation, which it could yet do — will unfairly exclude the poorest students and create a kind of upper and lower class of students.

"A financial squeeze since the recession led first to a reduction of federal and then state financing for colleges and universities. Since 2008, California’s community college system has lost $809 million in state aid, including $564 million in the most recent budget, even as more students than ever before try to enroll.

"Currently, each community college class costs $36 per credit hour. Under Santa Monica’s plan, the more expensive courses would cost $180 per credit hour — just enough to cover the college’s costs, Dr. Tsang said.

"While the college is still ironing out the details, it expects to offer about 200 courses at the higher tuition price, in addition to hundreds of regularly priced courses. College officials say that nearly every class is filled to capacity and that they are asking departments to choose which courses have the highest demand so they can offer more of those — typically basic courses in English, writing, math and science.
"Janet Harclerode, an English instructor and president of the college’s Academic Senate, said that many professors viewed the new plan as having a “real ick factor,” but that few saw any real alternative. Many instructors have already accepted extra students in their classrooms, even allowing a few to sit on the floor when seats were scarce.

“We hope that this is just a stopgap measure, before taxpayers step up and the state really starts to reinvest in the colleges,” she said."
In the wake of the initial announcement, Chancellor Asks Community College to Hold Off on Tuition Plan

"The chancellor of the California community college system has requested that Santa Monica College hold off on its plan to offer popular courses with higher tuition this summer, saying that the legality of the program is still in question. 

 "The request came a day after a student protest at the college ended with a campus police officer spraying dozens of people with pepper spray, several of whom suffered minor injuries. Many students and faculty members have criticized the plan saying it violates the long tradition of community colleges as havens for those without the means to afford four-year colleges.

 "The chancellor, Jack Scott, had already made it clear that he was wary of the community college’s plan to charge more for some popular classes and said it could violate state education codes. He has asked the state’s attorney general for an opinion, which he expects to receive in the next week."

Update, April 19: Chancellor’s Office Says Santa Monica College’s 2-Tier Pricing Plan Is Illegal

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