Students Ready to Fight Bill That Would Create Higher-Fee Classes

Monday, April 22, 2013

Students and faculty are gearing up for a fight to oppose legislation that would allow California community colleges to charge more for high-demand courses during summer and winter sessions.

Colleges would be able to offer extension programs for credit leading to certificates, associate's degrees and for transfer to four-year universities, if enrollment was at capacity the preceding two years.

The bill, AB 955, is similar to a controversial plan attempted by Santa Monica College last summer to offer core education classes such as English, math and history at a cost of about $180 per unit, alongside state-funded courses set by the Legislature at $46 per unit. The school argued that extension courses would give students who couldn't get into regular classes another option to complete their education.

The plan was derided by opponents as a pathway to a two-tier education system favoring those who can pay.

The Santa Monica campus retreated after the community colleges' chancellor's office said the plan violated education codes that prohibit differential fees and after some protesters tried to force entry into a board of trustees meeting and were pepper-sprayed.

The current bill's author, Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), said he revived the idea because colleges are still suffering from severe state funding cuts that have prevented the schools from increasing course offerings and led many of them to drop summer and winter sessions.

Those cuts in turn are hampering military veterans, who must be continuously enrolled to qualify for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits such as housing stipends.

Under Williams' plan, contract courses would not supplant state-funded classes. There is also precedent in California State University's extended and continuing education degree programs, which offer classes for the full cost of instruction, he said.

"Our intent is to help students be able to get classes," said Williams. "Everyone advocates for access, but I'm disappointed that no one supports any ideas. This is a modest attempt that is voluntary on the part of students and community colleges. Opponents of the bill should not be able to make decisions for every community college student in the state."

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