Should Some College Courses Cost More than Others? One CA Legislator Thinks So

Higher education has hit a rough patch in California due to the state’s budget woes. A recent article in Inside Higher Education highlights the difficulties budget cuts have caused and one potential solution: two-tiered pricing for courses at community colleges.

Over the last five years, $1.5 billion has been cut from the California community college system. According to another article in Inside Higher Education

[s]ince 2007, the state’s 112 community colleges have been forced to substantially reduce staffing, which in turn led to a 21 percent dip in course offerings…. And first-time students were the most likely to be turned away, with a 5 percent enrollment decline even as the number of California high school graduates increased by 9 percent.

Cutting 100,000 courses out of the community college system’s offerings has created a shortage in many disciplines. Consequently

Das Williams, a Democrat who represents Santa Barbara in California’s State Assembly, introduced [a] proposal last month. It would allow colleges to offer nonresident tuition rates – about $200 per credit compared to the standard $46 per credit – for courses in summer or winter sessions.

Mr. Williams argues that differential tuition will help ease budget cuts to community colleges and also students to save money by getting their two year degree more expeditiously:

“These same courses at the lower fees would still be offered during the regular academic year. But if students choose to pay a higher fee during a summer or winter session, this would allow them that opportunity….This option would save students potentially thousands of dollars in living expenses by allowing them to take a course and transfer, rather than hang around for a year waiting for a class to open up.”

Critics of the plan argue that it will change the nature of the community college system which has been seen as a gateway to higher education for lower income students. They argue that the differential pricing system would cater to wealthier students and marginalize those of more modest means.

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