California: Off the wait list for a price

California may let community colleges charge more for some classes, reports Inside Higher Ed.

With less state funding and growing enrollments, many of the state’s community colleges can’t meet student demand for classes.

California just raised tuition from $26 per credit to $36. That’s about $1,000 a year for a full-time student, the lowest tuition in the nation. The proposed premium courses could cost as much as $150 per credit.  

There’s no question many students would pay more to get off wait lists. Time is money:  Already, students are giving up on community college and enrolling in higher-cost for-profit colleges that offer the classes they need.

According to a recent bill analysis, Jack Scott, California Community Colleges chancellor, reported that “approximately 140,000 students have effectively been denied access, over 95 percent of all classes are at capacity, and an estimated 10,000-15,000 students are on wait lists for courses.” And even with Governor Jerry Brown’s revised budget proposal — which attempts to offset a $400 million reduction for the state’s community colleges with a small tuition increase — further course reductions are likely at many institutions in the coming academic year.

College of the Canyons and Santa Monica College, which are sponsoring the bill,  say they’ll offer higher-cost classes in programs “that are currently available primarily at for-profit institutions at a higher cost” than community colleges charge. In other words, these colleges are responding to competition.

The Community College League of California is backing the bill. Statewide faculty groups are opposed.

“It creates a metaphorical toll lane in the California community colleges for those who can pay and, essentially, it institutes a kind of economic segregation of the system,” said Carl Friedlander, president of the Community College Council of the California Federation of Teachers.

Instead of creating a parallel track of high-priced classes, California’s community colleges should be able to set tuition as they see fit and keep the money for operating expenses, argues Community College Dean.  Now tuition is set by the state. Colleges send the money to Sacramento, which sends back whatever the Legislature decides is appropriate. If colleges set their own tuition, students would pay considerably more, the dean writes. But colleges would be able to meet student demand.

California community college students should pay more for all their classes, argues Richard Rider, chair of San Diego Tax Fighters,  in a San Diego Newsroom commentary.Students will benefit for their education, Rider writes. They should pay for it.

California community college students are paying about a third of the national tuition average of $3,029 a year, he points out.

 This ridiculously low tuition devalues education to students.  This results in a 30+ percent drop rate for class completion — a course that starts off with 30 students finishes the semester with (on average) only 21 students.

It gets worse.  A full two-thirds of California community college students pay no out-of-pocket tuition at all.  They fill out a simple unverified “hardship” form that exempts them from any tuition payment, or they receive grants and tax credits for their full tuition. 

Raise California’s tuition to the national average, Rider argues.

It makes more sense to raise tuition for all classes, with financial aid for those who need it, than to create a cumbersome two-track system. The dean’s ideas make sense to me. Let the colleges set tuition and spend the proceeds.