State

Proposed law could triple the cost of high-demand community college classes

Monday, September 23, 2013

It could soon get a lot more expensive to attend a community college in California: The state legislature has passed a controversial bill that would triple the fees for certain classes.

Assemblymember Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara) and Long Beach City College are pushing different tuition rates as a way to ease overcrowded classrooms.

The Public Policy Institute of California says years of budget cuts at the state's community colleges resulted in 86,000 fewer courses and a list of half-a-million students last fall waiting to get into a class.

Another 600,000 have been turned away since 2008, all of which hinders graduating or transferring to a four-year university.

"There's a need for community colleges to look at innovative ways to meet student need," said Laura Metune, chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. "We're not currently able to accept all of the students that want to take classes at community colleges."

A bill on Governor Brown's desk would allow six campuses to start a four-year pilot program allowing them to offer extension courses for credit during summer and winter inter-sessions.

If successful, it could go statewide.

The hitch? Tuition would triple to about $200 a unit, essentially what out-of-state students pay where there's no state subsidy.

Many community college administrators are upset over creating a system where income can determine how fast you finish college.

"You're creating a two-tiered funding system for students," said Vincent Stewart, California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office. "So those students that have the means can go to the front of the line in getting courses, and those that do not are left behind."

Stewart also says the proposal violates the mission of community colleges: to give access to everyone by funneling tax dollars to the system to keep tuition low.

"We're now saying that it's no longer the role of the state and we're just going to have students bear the cost," said Stewart.

Supporters argue one-third of the tuition hike would go toward financial aid, helping low-income students enroll in the more expensive inter-session classes.

"We believe we'll take care of those students through that method," said Laura Metune.

Governor Brown has until mid-October to weigh in. He did promise voters that if they approved higher taxes under Proposition 30, which they did, he would not raise tuition.

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