Santa Monica College in California is trying something unprecedented. From the New York Times:
This summer it will offer some courses for a higher price, so that students who are eager to get into a particular class can do so if they pay more.
Community colleges have traditionally been the place where those without the financial resources to attend a 4 year college could obtain a relatively inexpensive education.
A financial squeeze since the recession led first to a reduction of federal and then state financing for colleges and universities. Since 2008, California’s community college system has lost $809 million in state aid, including $564 million in the most recent budget, even as more students than ever before try to enroll.
“Every year we look around and think about how we can serve more students, but what we have now is not working,” said Chui L. Tsang, the president of Santa Monica College. “Literally thousands of students are missing out on opportunities we want to give them and have the ability to give them if we just had the money.”
California community colleges do have low tuition costs, especially compared to the rest of the country. The reasoning has always been that those low fees meant greater access to college for more students. Budget cuts are causing that thinking to change:
There’s a sense that if the colleges can generate the adequate income themselves, they may no longer be struggling with the lack of resources, because there is certainly a tremendous level of demand,” Dr. Douglass said. “It’s a much-needed conversation that we need to have — is it possible our tuition is too low? This is a very important move to push the envelope.”
It's also possible that if community colleges are forced to become income generating machines, a college education will become increasingly out of reach for low income and immigrant students.