Community College If You Can Pay

The California Legislature is considering a bill that critics say would create separate community college courses for the "haves" and the "have-nots" on some campuses.

The bill would allow two-year institutions to create "extension programs" offering credit courses. The courses would have to be "self-supporting, with all costs recovered," and could not supplant existing courses funded with state dollars. But the courses could be quite similar to the regular courses — just with much higher tuition rates.

Those supporting the bill argue that, by having this ability, community colleges would be able to provide additional credit courses to meet student demand "at no additional cost to the state" — something they argue is essential given that demand at community colleges has ballooned as state funding of them has been steeply cut in recent years. Those opposed to the bill, however, argue that it would lead many community colleges to offer courses via extension that are similar to traditional courses but simply cost more, creating “a confusing two-tier structure that does not follow the colleges’ mission” of open-access education. And since the much higher tuition rates would likely limit enrollment of low-income students, critics see the community colleges creating sections for wealthy students, at a time when students of all socioeconomic groups are facing wait lists.

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