State Assembly allows community colleges to charge nonresident tuition

The California Assembly passed a bill Monday allowing California community colleges to charge all students out-of-state tuition during summer and winter sessions, regardless of residency.

The bill, AB 955, allows community colleges to raise tuition during their shorter intersessions — in the summer and over winter break — from $46 per unit to about $200 per unit. In the face of budget cuts beginning in 2008, many community colleges have had to cut sections from the most needed classes. Proponents of AB 955  hope that the increase in funds will allow colleges to create more sections and ensure students can graduate on time.

Assemblymember Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, who authored the bill, says the lack of available classes places students in debt because it takes them additional years to graduate. Despite tuition increases for some classes, shortening the time students spend in school will keep student debt from rising, Williams said.

“Even if you have no costs from fees, student debt is continuing to rise just to get done with community college, where it takes longer to complete a program,” Williams said.

According to a March 2013 report by the Public Policy Institute of California, the number of courses offered at community colleges has declined by 21 percent since 2008, with almost 60 percent of the drop coming from reduced summer term classes. Most of these are credit courses needed to transfer or obtain a degree or certificate.

The bill passed the assembly with a vote of 50 to 16, with 12 abstaining. Assemblymember, Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, was among those who voted no, saying that she felt the bill would set the California Community Colleges system up to be two-tiered.

“These courses could, in many cases, be then restricted only to those that can afford them, and then we haven’t really addressed the problem,” Skinner said during floor debate. “We have just created a circumstance where some can attend and others not.”

Community college districts themselves are divided on the bill, according to an Assembly bill analysis, with many citing similar reasons to those given by Williams and Skinner. Peralta Community College District, home to Berkeley City College, opposes the bill, according to the analysis.

Valentino Calderon, president-elect of the Associated Students of Berkeley City College, understands why tuition might be raised in light of budget cuts but considers effects on the average student.

“I know a lot of students need intersession classes, because a lot of students are full-time workers and parents,” Calderon said. “They cannot always allocate all their time during the regular semester, and to pay higher fees seems unfair.”

However, the bill notes that a third of the money generated from higher tuition would go to expanding financial assistance for eligible students.

Contact Chase Schweitzer at [email protected]