Santa Monica College trustees abandon two-tier payment proposal

Courtesy of LA Times

The Board of Trustees at Santa Monica College (SMC) have voted to abandon their plans for a two-tier tuition plan in which high-demand courses would be offered at higher prices. Facing overcrowding and limited resources, SMC intended to create a nonprofit foundation which would offer core classes at inflated rates of $180 per unit versus the normal cost of $46 per unit.

The plan would have targeted waitlisted students who are in desperate need of a class in order to transfer or graduate. Opposition to the plan has varied from protests held outside of trustee meetings to statements made by Community College Chancellor Jack Scott. Protests on April 3 resulted in numerous students being pepper-sprayed outside of the room where the trustees were discussing the two-tier plan.

“Santa Monica Community College District trustees and President (Chui) Tsang have my respect and appreciation for their decision to hold off on plans to institute a dual fee system for courses in high demand. Although I disagreed with this proposal, I cannot fault college leaders for searching for new approaches to serve students hungry for the opportunity to receive a college education,” stated Chancellor Scott. The tuition pricing system has been faced with criticism for being an elitist agenda, which privatizes public education at the sake of low-income students; others argue that an increase in fees are necessary in order to compensate for state budget cuts.

The creation of a nonprofit organization titled Santa Monica Career and Transfer Alliance was spearheaded by SMC officials. Under the tuition plan, the organization would offer an additional 50 courses at hiked prices in order to help support around 700 regular state-funded classes. Some of the extra courses that would have been offered include accounting, math, psychology and English composition.

“In my opinion the real two tier system of public higher education is reflected in the students who are lucky enough to gain admission to community college and those who are unfortunate enough to be locked out due to a reduction of state subsidized funding,” stated former Superior Court Judge and member of the SMC Board of Trustees David B. Finkel in an interview with the Highlander.

“Funding has to be obtained either from students willing and able to pay the cost of the course, or from outside revenue to finance the cost of offering courses for those locked out of the state subsidized courses by underfunding from the state.” The additional cost, however, is something that many students cannot afford; a popular argument posed against the plan is that low-income students would be hurt by higher prices and are put at a disadvantage in terms of being able to graduate on time.

On April 3, over a hundred students appeared at a Board of Trustees meeting in order to protest the tuition plan, which resulted in 30 students being pepper-sprayed to the extent that some were hospitalized. SMC President Chui L. Tsang has established a review panel in order to assess the procedures for police response and expressed remorse for those who were adversely affected in the protest.

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