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March 15, 2012 5:10 PM High Prices for High Demand Courses?

By Daniel Luzer

One community college, as you may have heard by now, has plans to try and raise money by offering different prices for different courses. Students who wish to take courses will, under the plan, have to pay more money. All of the students, however, have to take these courses.

According to an article by Carla Rivera in the Los Angeles Times:

Faced with deep funding cuts and strong student demand, Santa Monica College is pursuing a plan to offer a selection of higher-cost classes to students who need them, provoking protests from some who question the fairness of such a two-tiered education system.
Under the plan, approved by the governing board and believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, the two-year college would create a nonprofit foundation to offer such in-demand classes as English and math at a cost of about $200 per unit. Currently, fees are $36 per unit, set by the Legislature for California community college students. That fee will rise to $46 this summer.

Administrators at Santa Monica College say the new concept comes as a result of state funding cuts. The school has $11 million less from Sacramento than it enjoyed last year. It could lose another $5 million from the state next year.

This is an understandable response to state budget cuts, but it’s probably also illegal.

Paul Feist of the California Community Colleges told Rivera that state law doesn’t permit colleges to offer these courses at different fees.

“High-demand” courses, however, is misleading. This makes it sound as if the college just can’t offer all of its classes to all students because the courses are so popular; it’s just responding to demanding. Presented this way it does seem to make sense to offer higher prices for such courses.

Well, no. There’s a lot of demand for these courses, because taking these courses is required in order to graduate from the school. If the institution requires the courses, at the very least it should offer them so that students can actually study without great difficultly.

This is what starving the institutions does; it forces colleges to pass higher costs, for normal, gut courses, right back to students. Some students at Santa Monica can afford to take $600 courses, but many can’t, and most can’t easily do so, that’s why they’re going to a community college in the first place.

Is there a solution here that won’t pass higher costs to students? Without more state funding, it doesn’t look likely.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer