Santa Monica College board to hold emergency public meeting on two-tier plan

Vanessa Romo/KPCC

Outside an emergency meeting called by the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees to discuss the two-tier pricing plan. These demonstrators say they support the decision to raise tuition on some courses, saying it's the only way to keep the doors open. A few days earlier, Protests against the plan ended in scuffles with police, including some protesters being pepper sprayed.

The Santa Monica College Board of Trustees will hold an emergency public meeting at 10:30 a.m. today to discuss California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott's request that the college put on hold its plan to offer a new tier of higher-cost courses this summer.

The program calls for about 50 new courses this summer at $180 a unit — about five times the cost of other course offerings. College officials say that’s the only way they can provide enough courses for students amid state budget cuts.

Campus police pepper-sprayed some students who protested the program at a college trustees’ meeting Tuesday night. The next morning, state community colleges chancellor Jack Scott called Santa Monica College president Chui Tsang and asked him to delay the two-tier tuition plan while the state Attorney General examines whether the plan is legal.

"I think that would be wise, but of course that’s only my advice I am not the president," Scott said. "The President Chui Tsang answers directly to the Santa Monica elected board of trustees. He made it clear and I understand they would have to make that decision.”

Santa Monica College spokesman Bruce Smith says administrators still believe they’re on solid legal ground after the phone exchange with Scott.

Dr. Tsang was very appreciative of the call. They had a great conversation," Smith said. "The college is going to take that request under full consideration. As of this point there is no change we’re moving ahead with the program.”

Students who oppose that program say they worry the college will create courses they won’t be able to afford. Unlike the public Cal State and University of California systems, community colleges operate with open enrollment. State chancellor Jack Scott is proud of that, and he doesn’t want it to change.

“The biggest issue right here is whether or not we are favoring those who have greater income over those who don’t," Scott said. "That’s where I think it’s problematic.”

Pricing is another issue. The state legislature usually determines the cost of community college courses; then those schools return revenue to Sacramento. In this case, student fees would pay directly for the higher-priced courses, and Santa Monica College trustees would determine their cost. Scott recognizes why they want to do that — but he wishes they wouldn’t.

“California is not providing sufficient funds for everybody to get classes, however this has to be done by the legislature and not the local board of trustees," Scott said. "This could be very problematic if you stop and think about all the boards of trustees doing this.”

Cuts to the state education budget have prompted Santa Monica College to cut more than a thousand course sections in four years. Under the governor’s budget plan the college could lose another $5 million if California voters do not approve a November ballot initiative to raise taxes.

For more details on the program and continued updates check out KPCC's Pass/Fail education blog.

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).

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