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Innovation vs. Regulation: Two-tier pricing approved for popular classes at Santa Monica College

Photo by Michele Markel Connors via Flickr Creative Commons

In the face of dramatic funding cuts Santa Monica College's governing board has approved a two-tier course pricing plan for a number of its in-demand classes.

Students under the new plan would be charged a higher price to take a course when the state-funded classes fill up. It is believed to be the first program of its kind in the country, reports the L.A. Times.

Regulated course fees at SMC are currently set at $36 per unit, and are expected to rise to $46 this summer.

The two-tier plan would see the college create a nonprofit foundation to offer select popular classes at approximately $200 per unit, and the structure could go into effect as soon as the upcoming summer session. It would expand to the entire academic year if the program is successful. 

"The mechanics of the program are still being worked out, but generally the higher-cost classes would become available after state-funded classes fill up. The winter session may offer only the higher-cost classes, officials said," notes the Times.

Qualifying students would be able to apply financial aid to the higher priced courses, and the school is reportedly exploring private fund scholarships.

SMC has a student body of roughly 34,000 and boasts one of the highest transfer rates to four-year universities in the state's community college system.

Supporters call the plan innovative in the face of financial defunding, and believe supplementing course options is better than turning away students. They cited fee-based summer school "get-ahead" classes as a precedent.

Critics feel the fees are equivalent to privatizing the public institution, and question the plan's practicality and legality. A spokesman for California Community Colleges chancellor said the plan did not seem to comply with state code about differential fees for courses. It was unclear if the chancellor would step in, however.