The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Controversial bill awaits governor’s signature

California Governor, Jerry Brown.
Courtesy of Office Of Governor Edmund Brown.

Students, faculty and administrators at community colleges across California await Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to sign or veto a bill by Oct. 13 that would allow six campuses to raise summer school tuition rates from $46 to over $200 per unit under a controversial pilot program.

Assembly Bill 955, sponsored by Santa Barbara Democrat Das Williams, would create a pilot program at six campuses for extension courses that charges out-of-state tuition rates to all students during the summer and winter intersession terms. The goal of the bill, according to Williams, is to give students the option of paying more than $200 per unit to forgo waitlists and delayed graduation.

“I basically am for any idea that’s going to increase student access to courses at a time when hundreds of thousands of students are being waitlisted and being blocked from being able to transferor complete a two-year education in a timely fashion,” Williams said in a phone interview.

According to the text of the bill, over $800 million of funding has been cut from the California community college budget since 2008, which resulted in almost 100,000 fewer course offerings, waitlists for 500,000 students, and a loss of community college access for 600,000 students.

Opponents of AB 955 allege that the pilot program would create a “two-tiered system” of access to community colleges.

Students with financial means could pay to graduate on time while those without remain left behind on waitlists for courses required to graduate and transfer.

City College history Professor Carl Sjovold disagreed with the principle behind creating a community college extension course system.

“I’m deeply skeptical, and I’m very concerned that this represents a move away from our mission, which is to provide a low-cost education to everybody, regardless of their circumstances,” Sjovold said.

When he attended community college, Sjovold said courses were tuition-free until 1984, when fees started at $5 per unit.

Williams defended his bill as a pragmatic alternative that would cost students more per unit for summer extension courses but would save money in the long term.

“If you look at student loan rates, community college students are accumulating debt, not because of fees but because of the amount of years that they are having to go to college,” Williams said.

He cited a statistic that living expenses for community college students average $17,500 per year, so avoiding additional years of community college would save more money than paying the
increased summer extension course fees.

Williams also disagreed with the two tier allegation as “totally unsupported by data” and pointed out that many students across California have been lured away from community colleges to expensive, for-profit private colleges where they accumulate massive student debt.

“I don’t think the choice is between everybody getting a low-cost public education and some people having to pay more,” Williams said. “I think the difference is between us trying to accommodate all Californians in public institutions or turning them away, forcing them to go to privates, which is what’s happening right now.”

Williams, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Higher Education, argued that the current limits on student access are unfair in light of his own experience.
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“Despite the fact that I dropped out of high school, I was able to transfer as a junior into UC Berkeley after two years and one summer at a community college,” Williams said. “Right now, that would be almost impossible for a community college student to do, even if they were smarter or harder working than me, and that’s wrong.”

Vincent Stewart, the vice chancellor of governmental relations at the California Community Colleges chancellor’s office, took issue with the policy behind AB 955 and pointed out its technical flaws.

“Immediately you have four colleges, either by their own choosing or by the requirements in the bill that determine eligibility, that can’t be part of the pilot,” Stewart said.

Officials at Pasadena City College and Oxnard College, according to a Los Angeles Times article, indicated the colleges oppose the AB 955 pilot program and refuse to participate. According to Stewart, Solano Community College would have to wait two years before participating because it failed to satisfy the eligibility requirements after receiving stability funding after a drop in enrollment.

According to Stewart, College of the Canyons is also ineligible because it fails to satisfy the full time equivalent students (FTES) requirement in the bill. Additionally, Crafton Hills College
officials want to consult with faculty and students before participating in the summer extension program. Only one of the six colleges specified in the pilot program—Long Beach City College—is
willing and eligible to offer summer extension courses under AB 955.

“Our office was not consulted on the selection of the colleges or the criteria by which they would be deemed eligible,” Stewart said.

Stewart also noted that Board of Governors (BOG) waivers—the primary mode of financial aid for 70 percent of community college students—are not available during summer school.

Williams also explained that it’s “a no-brainer for veteran students to take these courses” because under the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, expanding the number of school terms increases a veteran’s eligibility for more living stipends.

Stewart disagreed with Williams’ analysis, mentioning that veterans’ tuition assistance only covers $46 per unit of in-state tuition, and veterans would have to cover the difference for the out-of-state tuition costs.

Elonda Wright, a nursing major at City College, saw both sides of the issue.

“I’m on the fence. I get the big picture, and I think it would be a good idea overall,” Wright said. However, Wright noted, “I wouldn’t appreciate my prices being raised even more because I pay a lot now.”

Dennis Anderson, a music student at City College, said he would refuse to pay out-of-state tuition altogether. “It’s ridiculous,” Anderson said. “I’d go for the fall [semester courses] or I’d go without.”

Williams acknowledged that the summer extension courses would not serve every student’s needs.

“If the students don’t want to, then they won’t take the courses,” Williams said.

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