SAN FRANCISCO — A bill that will allow a handful of California’s community colleges to offer additional courses at inflated prices during short summer and winter sessions earned Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature last week despite strong opposition from student leaders and the chancellor of the state’s two-year college system.
AB955, sponsored by Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, authorizes six specific colleges to charge students who enroll during the special sessions fees of $200 per unit, compared to the state-subsidized $46 per unit price charged during traditional semesters and quarters. A typical three-unit class that costs $138 during the regular academic year, therefore, would cost $600 during the winter or summer “intersessions.”
Williams said he crafted the legislation in response to severe bottlenecks that surfaced amid the course reductions that accompanied cutbacks in the college system’s funding over the last several years and made it hard for students to obtain the classes they needed to graduate.
“We want people to be able to have the chance to take the subsidized courses, but if they can’t get in, we want to provide them a fallback to be able to get those classes they need to make progress and to transfer instead of sitting around in school a whole ’nother year when they are just wasting their time,” Williams said.
Williams said he originally hoped to make the higher-fee courses available at all 112 community colleges but, amid the opposition, amended it to cover only six that had expressed interest in the concept: College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, Long Beach City College, Oxnard College, Pasadena City College and Solano Community College in Fairfield.
The bill requires the colleges that elect to participate to use one-third of the money they collect on financial aid for economically disadvantaged students.
Several community college districts and student and faculty groups lobbied the governor to veto the bill, saying the pilot program would establish a bad precedent by making a public education available only to those who can afford it and putting lower-income students at a disadvantage.
“The state would be shifting the burden for funding access from the state general fund to the backs of students,” Vincent Stewart, the community college’s system’s vice chancellor for governmental relations, said after the California Legislature approved the measure. “Creating a pay-to-play fee structure, where students who have greater wealth and means can get on a fast track is patently unfair.”
In a signing message accompanying the bill, Brown said the pilot program “seems like a reasonable experiment.”
“Why deny these campuses the opportunity to offer students access and financial assistance to courses not otherwise available?” he wrote.