Legislature passes bill aiming to add higher-cost community college classes

Benny Grush/Staff
Berkeley City College students are shown here studying. Some students worry about how the new bill will affect their ability to get the classes they need.

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California’s community colleges may soon be able to charge higher fees for certain high-demand classes, after both houses of the California State Legislature passed a bill earlier this month.

Normally, California residents pay about $46 per unit to take classes at community colleges, with each class offering about three units. The bill, waiting to be signed or vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would implement a pilot program allowing six community colleges across California to offer additional classes during summer and winter sessions at a cost of about $200 per unit.

“I fundamentally don’t believe that our system should force students to take six to eight years to complete a four-year education,” said Assemblymember Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, author of the bill.

The bill comes in the wake of a 21 percent decline in community college course offerings since the 2007-08 academic year, according to a March 2013 report by the Public Policy Institute of California. Williams hopes the additional courses — although more expensive upfront — will allow students to ultimately save money by graduating earlier.

The pilot program, if the bill is signed, would begin in 2014 and be evaluated in 2017. If deemed successful, the policy could extend to community colleges across the state, including Berkeley City College.

Ben Tagami, a BCC freshman, said classes often fill up quickly, sometimes within one week. He is taking a required math course at another community college because he could not get into the class at BCC.

“I would be willing to pay more for popular classes,” Tagami said. “Students need to fill certain class credits, and if they aren’t available at BCC, (they have to) either commute to another college or wait until the next sign-up period.”

However, Jonathan Lightman, executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, believes the bill, instead of aiding students, will divide those who can afford higher fees and those who cannot.

He also noted that out of the six community colleges in the program, only one or two have indicated interest in providing the higher-cost classes.

Pasadena City College, which the bill aims to include in the pilot program, does not intend to participate and is instead looking into federal grants and legislation that would give students school credits for past professional work, said Juan Gutierrez, director of public relations at the Pasadena college.

Although Jesse Rothstein, an associate professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy, agrees community college funding should come from the government, he would rather colleges charge more for additional classes than not offer them at all.

“It’s a shame that the state has defunded its higher education system to such an extent,” Rothstein said. “It is a slippery slope. The problem is, we’re already halfway down the slope.”

Contact Alison Fu and Melissa Wen at [email protected].