Different Course, Different Price

ORLANDO — As the dust settles over Santa Monica College’s halted two-tier pricing plan, community colleges around the country are adopting other forms of differential tuition.

The Lone Star College System, for example, has begun charging variable prices across all of its programs based on the cost of course delivery, said system officials Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges. And in a particularly novel step, they said the system plans to soon include financial incentives for students to make completion progress, such as through fixed prices for degree programs or stipends for students based on milestones they hit on their path to credentials.

The new pricing strategy is possible because Lone Star can track the per-student cost of all courses across its six colleges and nine centers in greater Houston, which enroll a total headcount of 90,000 students, said Richard Carpenter, Lone Star's chancellor. And this year the system was able to begin charging tuition rates that better represent the cost of instruction — even factoring in per-course expenditures on buildings and classrooms.

Differential tuition is common at four-year institutions, and even the norm at flagship publics. At community colleges, however, the often controversial approach is typically limited to more obviously expensive and high-demand course offerings, like nursing. But Lone Star goes much farther.

"A student taking six different courses can pay six different prices,” said Carpenter.

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