Board: 2-tier tuition is ‘Robin Hood’ plan

Robin Hood was the model for Santa Monica College‘s plan to charge higher tuition for added classes, say members of the very liberal college board. Those who could afford it would pay more, opening up space in classes for low-income students. “It’s an opportunity to make a very progressive policy, an opportunity to be Robin Hood,” trustee Rob Rader told the Los Angeles Times. 

For many on the eight-member panel, which includes a humanities professor, an ACLU board member and a college counselor, the plan was conceived as a progressive response to drastic state funding cuts and was intended to increase access and allow more students to graduate and transfer.

The plan, said one, was socialism in action. But just an hour before, angry demonstrators had nearly beaten down the door, hurling accusations that a two-tier pricing system would shut out low-income students and lead to privatizing public education. A campus police officer used pepper spray to stop the surging crowd.

The board planned to add sections of English, math and history at $180 per unit for students willing to pay more for immediate entry. Regular courses, which cost $46 per unit, often have wait lists. A  scholarship fund was set up to help low-income students afford the higher-priced classes.

Trustees canceled the summer launch after California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott said this version of two-tier fees appears to be illegal. 

The college already charges higher fees to foreign students. With an excellent record of transferring students to nearby UCLA, Santa Monica College enrolls more international students than any community college in the nation.

About 3,300 students from Korea, China, Sweden and other countries are enrolled in the college. They pay the nonresident rate of $275 per unit and generate annual revenues of $13 million, which had allowed the college to offer a higher level of services such as counseling and more classes until recent budget cuts forced severe reductions.The success of the international program provided an impetus to expand the scope of so-called contract education, and in fall 2010 the college offered 18 extra sections of courses such as English, economics and art history open only to international students.

College trustees still hope to work out legal issues with Scott’s office.

State funding cuts are driving community college students to much higher-priced for-profit colleges, which speed the path to graduation, Rader told the Times“Private, for-profit universities are targeting many of our students, and they don’t do as good a job as we do…. We were going to take their business model and make it progressive. It’s progressive jujitsu.”