Santa Monica Part II?

The fight over two-tiered pricing at California’s community colleges isn’t over.

Leaders at Santa Monica College in March unveiled a controversial plan to create a self-supporting private foundation to help meet student demand by offering courses at four times the cost of overbooked state-financed courses. But they shelved that idea in April, after a fierce backlash and the pepper-spraying of protesting students.

Even if the controversy had died down, two-tiered tuition is probably illegal in California. Jack Scott, chancellor of the state’s community college system, said he believed Santa Monica’s tuition plan would violate state law. California’s attorney general later concurred.

That could change if Roderick D. Wright gets his way. The California state senator in February introduced legislation that would smooth the way for community colleges to do essentially what Santa Monica’s governing board proposed, by authorizing the creation of “self-supporting” extension programs that offer credit-bearing courses.

New courses in the voluntary pilot program proposed by the legislation would need to be focused on technical education or work-force development, a narrower band than the high-demand English and math courses slated for expansion under the Santa Monica plan. And the higher-cost courses could not simply replace currently-offered, state-funded equivalents in those fields. But colleges could create extension programs without the approval of the statewide Board of Governors. And, most importantly, they could charge more for courses.

“This bill would allow community college districts to charge students for the actual costs of the courses,” according to the legislation, including the cost of instruction, equipment and supplies, student services and instructional support.

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