A Paid Advantage

By Ayan Kusari • Staff Writer

Santa Monica College recently announced its intention to offer students a handful of its most in-demand classes at over four times the regular price as early as this summer. The current price of a the regular classes at SMC are currently $46 per unit, and the new sections of these classes will cost roughly $200 per unit. These classes at inflated prices will be offered only during the 5-week intersessions, which take place over summer and winter break. SMC’s goal is to reduce demand and free up space during the school year — waitlists often have more people signed up than the classes have seats. 

The plan has been disparaged as exclusive and elitist by politicians, journalists, and Santa Monica College students alike. But given the severity of the budget crisis and the high demand for necessary courses, offering higher-cost classes during the shorter sessions as a stop-gap measure will pay off in the end.

Opening this new set of intersession sections is expensive, therefore students have to cover the additional cost themselves for these new sections. It’s important to note that students can still get a full education at SMC without ever having to take a higher-priced class: the new sections will only be opened for the summer and winter intersessions, and are intended for those students who were waitlisted for the normally-priced classes during the regular terms. A higher-priced intersession offering is more than a good deal for the chronically waitlisted: it’s the only way for many of them to graduate on time.

It is necessary to make students pay more for their education while California schools are in economic recovery. And it’s better than the alternative — interminable waitlists that lead to unprecedented dropout rates. The 2010 “Divided We Fail” study conducted by Cal State Sacramento found that nearly 70 percent of students in California Community Colleges either drop out officially, or simply fail to reappear for another semester. This is often due to the lack of available seats in classrooms, which becomes discouraging and leads to drop outs. Moreover, when community college students fail to graduate, it costs taxpayers nearly $4 billion over a five-year period, according to a 2011 American Institute for Research study conducted by Mark Schneider and Lu Michelle Yin. Dropout rates clearly indicate that students at community colleges need to create more spaces in their classes for their students: the higher-priced option allows them to do just that. Like the UC’s, community colleges are becoming increasingly privatized anyway. Just last month, the California Community Colleges received an extra budget cut of $149 million from the state — on top of the official cut of $400 million from the 2011-12 budget. Fees for regular classes have jumped from $36 per unit to $46 per unit in the last six months. Given the state of California’s budget, and Gov. 

Jerry Brown’s determination to balance it, it seems perfectly likely that further cuts will come SMC’s way in the coming months. In response to these, SMC had two options last month: it could either slowly increase class fees while doing nothing to change its enrollment policies, or it could try something different. SMC should boost the cost of a few additional sections of GE’s, so that students desperate for graduation can have another option. 

A major criticism of the plan — voiced by everyone on the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board to SMC’s own student body president, Harrison Wills — is that it is elitist. Wills argues that this creates a “two-tiered system” of wealthy students who benefit from the new classes and lower income students who unluckily get stuck paying for extra years in college. 

But this criticism is flawed on a number of accounts. First of all, there is funding available for low-income students. Early this March, SMC acquired a $250,000 donation from businessman Daniel Greenberg and his wife, Susan Steinhauser, for scholarships for students who are both behind on their graduation requirements and in financial need. SMC additionally promotes outside scholarships from over 30 organizations. 

Also, this system will help all students, because those who can afford the higher-priced sections will take those, and thus lessen the demand for the regularly-priced equivalents in the process. This will shorten waitlists, open up seats, and speed up the graduation process for the entire campus.When it comes to gaining the choice to take classes faster, fears surrounding the change are largely unjustified. Santa Monica College students have nothing to lose: both students willing to pay extra and those who can’t afford it will be able to get through required coursework faster, enabling them to enter the workforce or a 4-year institution with greater ease.

Readers can contact Ayan Kusari at  [email protected]


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