Community College Re-thinks Payment System

Thursday, March 29, 2012

In California overcrowding and underfunding has made it impossible for many community college students to get into the packed courses they need for job training or transfers to a four-year college. Since 2009, 300,000 fewer students have enrolled in California community colleges, and many cite the difficulty to find positions in these courses as a main problem.

The situation isn’t getting better. In the state’s 2012 budget, community colleges lost $564 million and in the wake of these cuts have reduced course offerings by 20 percent. But one community college has found an innovative way to solve their problems.

This summer, Santa Monica College will implement something of a two-tier system for students to pay for different courses. Students can secure spots in the courses which are most in demand if they pay a higher fee. While this may solve the problem of overcrowded classrooms, not everybody thinks this is a good idea.

In this conversation we listen to Pedro Noguera and Martin Goldstein debate the merits and pitfalls of this innovative approach. Pedro Noguera is sociology professor and head of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University and Martin Goldstein is professor of communications at Santa Monica Community College.


Martin Goldstein and Pedro Noguera

Produced by:

Hsi-Chang Lin

Comments [4]

Professor Mental from Santa Monica

I think Martin Goldstein is wrong to suggest that all students are embracing this option as is illustrated by the SMC Associated Student leadership recently passing a resolution stating their complete opposition to the two-tiered pricing plan.

In addition, the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges (of which Martin Goldstein is a member and Part-time Faculty Governor South) has taken the following position against this two-tiered system:

"The Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, the statewide professional membership association for community college faculty, strongly disagrees with the actions of Santa Monica College. California Community Colleges are established to provide high quality, affordable, and accessible education to the public. Establishing an education toll-road for the economically privileged, under the guise of extension, completely destroys the foundation of our community college system. Our policy makers must prioritize higher education through community colleges in the state budget as it is the best return on investment the state can make in these economically distressed times. Similarly, the state must also unequivocally reject such proposals as AB 515 (Brownley) and SB 1550 (Wright) seeking to develop a two-tier approach to community colleges."

What Professor Goldstein does not mention is that offering these classes will create jobs, largely for adjunct faculty who in recent years have suffered as a result of statewide budget cuts. Having been an adjunct faculty member for over ten years (before being hired full time), I agree entirely that the exploitation of adjunct labor is a serious issue that must be addressed throughout California's systems of higher education; however, I am disheartened that students would be asked to bear the burden of paying for these jobs out of their own pocket.

For me, this is not only an issue of California taxpayers, many of whom received free and/or very affordable public educations themselves, defaulting on their responsibility to educate the younger generations but, more importantly, an issue of short-term savings versus long-term investment. The failure of taxpayers and elected officials to fund properly our institutions of higher education does not bode well for the future of this state, , especially as recent studies suggest that our state will be in the ironic position of importing highly educated labor in the next decade if current trends persist. Today's students are tomorrow's tax base.

Mar. 31 2012 04:49 PM

Interesting. Are these courses required (I wasn't quite clear from the section I heard if they were actually required courses or fancy electives)? I'd be right pissed if I went to college and they told me there were certain classes I had to take... but they were so full up I'd have to pay more if I wanted to get a spot.

If the college can't afford to offer enough classes for their students, maybe they need to look into other ways to cut their budget so they can actually offer what they say they offer, without students having to pony up more (read: the rich kids, or the ones who can go/are going into more massive debt, actually get the classes).

Imagine if you went to a restaurant-- a place you would expect to be able to get food-- and were told they didn't have enough food for all of their patrons and if you actually wanted to get food, you'd have to pay more. You'd walk out, right? And the same for any other business that insisted it couldn't provide the basic service it was created around, without being paid more to do so. (Or what if you went to work and told your boss sorry, you can't possibly do a competent job BUT if you were paid more you could do certain tasks? How long do you suppose you'd remain employed?) I'd do the same if I got essentially the same runaround from a college. Either do what you're set up to do, or stop setting yourself up to do it.

Mar. 30 2012 08:37 PM
Gracie from Southern California

I agree with SMCC offering classes for a fee. Students who do not get classes at regionally accredited schools are being snatched up by proprietary colleges that are not regionally accredited. This means that those students (usually low income) are taking out huge loans to pay for classes that can't be transferred because the school does not have accreditation. The students are promised the world because they are seen as dollars not someone trying to get an education. They are left with huge debt, no class credit and no jobs.

Mar. 29 2012 01:41 PM

California like Detroit get what they vote for and are shocked when the money runs out just as the calculator and calendar said it would and so goes the nation down the same "progressive" path.

Mar. 29 2012 09:39 AM

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