Community college plans to offer two-tier course pricing

Wills was among dozens of students who urged the seven-member Board of Trustees last week to reject the plan. Only board Chairwoman Margaret Quinones-Perez and student trustee Joshua Scuteri, whose vote is advisory, opposed it.

Trustee Louise Jaffe dismissed fears that the plan would shut out low-income students, arguing that they already are being driven to expensive for-profit institutions where they are amassing huge debt.

Fees for the new program will still be well below those of private and for-profit colleges as well as Cal State University and the University of California, she said.

“We think we can serve those students at a much better price and a much better value and not let them sit out there,” Jaffe said.

Faculty members have concerns about the plan, especially regarding curriculum, but they are working with administrators to ensure that the high-cost courses meet standards, said Janet Harclerode, president of the Academic Senate.

“We already have students in classes who have fee waivers or are international or out-of-state students paying different amounts,” Harclerode said. “Equity is very important for us, but it’s really painful to turn students away.”

Administrators at every level of higher education, from community colleges to the Cal State and UC systems, have been left with no good options as the state has slashed funding by billions of dollars in recent years, said Patrick Callan, president of the San Jose, Calif.-based Higher Education Policy Institute.

But the Santa Monica plan represents a fundamental shift in policy that needs more scrutiny, he said.

“It’s disheartening that the discussion for many colleges is what’s the best way to ration education,” Callan said. “No rationing of education is good, but it seems to me that rationing on the basis of financial means is an issue that has to do with what the mission of a community college really is. Whether or not it can be finessed legally, it ought to be debated as a major policy issue.”

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