Bill allowing community colleges to raise intersession tuition moves forward in Senate

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The California Senate Education Committee passed a controversial bill on Wednesday that would allow California Community Colleges to charge in-state residents out-of-state tuition during winter and summer sessions.

Despite opposition from some community college administrators, AB 955 passed 5-2, with two senators abstaining, and will now be sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Authored by Assemblymember Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, the bill would allow community college districts to cover the cost of offering more extension courses by raising tuition for in-state residents from an average of $46 per unit to around $200 per unit. Last Monday, the bill was passed in the California Assembly.

Williams said he authored the bill in response to budget cuts that forced community colleges to cut offerings of important courses. Proponents of the bill hope it will permit community colleges to offer courses that would help students to transfer or earn a degree during shorter intercessions. These programs would only be eligible for colleges that have been at enrollment capacity for the preceding two years.

“What is very key about my bill is that community colleges can only add new sections that students often take years getting through the waiting lists for,” Williams said. “We have to urgently look for ways to give students access to the courses they need.”

Brice Harris, chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, was one of the many AB 955 opponents who spoke at Wednesday’s California Senate Education Committee hearing. Harris and others said they worried the bill could create a two-tier system of those who can and cannot afford the increased tuition.

“I think this bill is bad public policy, creating a two-tiered fee system depending on demand or ability to pay,” Harris said. “There are far better ways of dealing with the issue than charging students more and more money.”

Williams said in response to the concerns, the bill was amended to downscale the number of colleges participating to 15 campuses and would have a sunset of six years.

Several other groups, such as the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, a professional membership association with nearly 10,000 members across the states, have also voiced their opposition.

“We are philosophically opposed to this bill, because we don’t believe that community colleges function to support the haves over the have-nots,” said Jonathan Lightman, executive director of the FACCC.

According to Lightman, members of the FACCC participated in a joint coalition with community college students and faculty members, the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and representative districts to lobby against the bill at the state Capitol on Tuesday.

Community colleges remain divided on this bill. College of the Canyons, along with a handful of other community colleges, are in support of AB 955. Fernando Vasquez, the associated student government president at College of the Canyons, testified in support of the bill on Wednesday at the hearing.

“We can’t afford to wait anymore,” Vasquez said. “We need classes so we can transfer and get jobs.”

Jose Ortiz, the chancellor of the Peralta Community College district, was also among those who spoke at the state Capitol on Wednesday. The Peralta Community College district, which includes Berkeley City College as well as other community colleges in the area, has expressed strong opposition to the bill.

“This bill will push our students to further financial aid and would require them, in my opinion, to move into further debt,” Ortiz said.

Contact Jane Nho at [email protected]