If not higher tuition, then what?

To appease angry students, Santa Monica College has suspended plans to charge four times more for quick access to high-demand classes. But demand still exceeds supply of classroom seats and that means some other form of rationing, write Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

What happens if you don’t respond to excess demand by raising the price? . . . We can make people wait in line or we can develop a more systematic method of choosing among eager consumers. That might be through some evidence-based method for choosing those who either need the product most or have characteristics making them most likely to use it well. Or it might be through a lottery of some sort.

…We could fund the institutions better so they could offer enough sections of the necessary courses. We could raise the price for all courses for all students. Or we can ration. But just saying no to a price hike doesn’t settle the question: some process will determine who will get the sought after prize, and you need to figure out what that process will be.

Despite the sharp rise in tuition at California’s community colleges, students still pay less than community college students elsewhere. And they get less in terms of access to classes, paying in time instead of money.

Differential tuition isn’t new at community colleges, writes Paul Fain in Inside Higher Ed. However, colleges typically charge more only for special programs outside the core mission or for courses that cost more to teach, such as engineering or nursing courses that require specialized equipment and small class sizes.

Pima Community College, a large institution in Arizona, this spring introduced differential tuition for high-cost offerings like veterinary technology and dental hygiene. The college studied the cost of delivery for disciplines over four years, according to college officials. To be picked for differential rates, which are 30 or 40 percent higher than standard tuition, courses needed to exceed the median cost for at least two consecutive years.

Some colleges also charge more for online courses, hoping to create a cash cow.

Affordable, if your time has no value

Even with fee increases, California community colleges are among the cheapest in the nation — if students’ time has no value. Students may wait years to get into the classes they need, reports the Sacramento Bee.

 Now in his third year at Yuba College, a year he once hoped to spend in Chico or Davis, Robert Bond said every student he knows has struggled to get the classes they need.

“My first semester here, no math classes were open, so I couldn’t get a math class,” Bond, 20, lamented on the Yuba campus quad, decked in a sweat shirt and shorts on an unseasonably warm afternoon. “Basically it took me two years until I could get a math class, college-level Math 52. So I’m like way behind.”

As the state struggles with budget deficits, community college funding has been cut: It is now 12 percent below its 2008-09 high-water mark. Colleges have cut classes, despite high demand.

State Chancellor Jack Scott toured a $20 million Yuba College building built with bond funds approved before the recession.

In the sun-splashed foyer, several psychiatric technician students praised their two-year program, though they said they had to wait two or three years to gain entry.

Two to three years to get into a two-year program? That’s a crazy waste of time and time is money.

California OKs college reforms

California community colleges will give enrollment priority to new students and those following a course of study leading to a credential under a reform plan approved by the system’s board of governors Monday after a three-hour hearing, reports the Los Angeles Times. Students who’ve earned more than 100 credits will be last in line for classes and will not be eligible for fee waivers. Recreational and enrichments classes will pay their own way or be dropped.

Some protest the changes will make it harder for low-income, minority and part-time students to access community colleges.

The Legislature will consider the reforms, many of which require amending education codes.

Proposed by a state task force, the reform package aims to increase graduation and transfer rates.

Among the 22 recommendations are proposals requiring all colleges to use a single assessment for English and math skills and prioritizing registration and fee waivers for students who have concrete goals, such as a degree, certificate or transfer to a four-year college.

Course offerings and schedules would be aligned with student needs, including a focus on basic skills and classes needed to transfer. Campuses would also be required to publish score cards detailing their performance in such areas as completion rates.

New students will be required to go through orientation to help choose the right classes. That will require more funding for counselors and other student services. Many who spoke to the board doubted the money would be allocated.

Others spoke in support of the plan.

“I do believe this is the greatest opportunity this system has ever had to close the achievement gaps that exist in California’s community colleges,” said Eloy Oakley, superintendent and president of Long Beach City College.

While the reforms are an improvement, part-time students and those seeking a liberal education could be short-changed, argues a Los Angeles Times editorial.

All students would be required to articulate a goal by the end of the first year of college, and a full educational plan by the end of the third semester. In addition, the state would target its funding of the colleges to discourage them from offering courses that aren’t showing up in those educational plans.

. . . The mandate for educational plans should be based on the number of credits taken, not on a point in time. The colleges hope to persuade more students to enroll full time, because such students have higher graduation rates. But pushing a student who needs to work into full-time studies could be counterproductive.

In addition, the plan should give students more leeway to take courses outside their study plans, the Times editorializes.  “A computer student who wants to take a literature course to deepen her education should be encouraged to do so, as long as she doesn’t go beyond her allotted 100 credits. . . Colleges don’t just churn out degrees and certificates; they’re supposed to encourage students to think big and try new things.”