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Tuition System Limits Disadvantaged Students

COPY EDITOR

Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 01:04

Due to the new $1 billion of budget cuts that took effect in California on January 1, 2012, many academic institutions were left without a significant portion of governmental funds. According to the Los Angeles Times, public schools alone will face a $330 million budget reduction. After cutting 1,000 course offerings over the past few years, Santa Monica College, a junior college in southern California, turned to unorthodox methods in order to prevent losing further integral classes. 

Noting that classes that were required for transfer to a four-year university had more demand than supply, the administration decided to offer 50 of these specific classes at a higher price, in what was called a “two-tiered system.” These courses were to be offered at $180 per credit hour, a price five times greater than that of other courses.

The rationale behind this decision was that the price increase would reduce the number of students who sought to take those classes, in order to prevent them from overfilling. The price increase would only cover the cost of offering the courses themselves and would not provide surplus capital to alleviate financial strain for the college as a whole.

This attempt proved entirely unsuccessful. Santa Monica College’s plan to offer the most popular courses at a higher price was met with heated student protests and a request from the Chancellor of California Community Colleges to cease all efforts to increase the price. The college’s board of trustees voted in April to put the plans for the two-tiered system on hold.

While this struggle over course availability is certainly more pronounced at state colleges and universities, the concept is not altogether foreign to students at Fordham. During registration, students can be left scrambling to find classes to fulfill core requirements. Fortunately for Fordham students, however, our administration has not attempted to implement a similar system.

The issue with the strategy attempted by Santa Monica College is that the two-tier system caters to those who have higher incomes and marginalizes students who can not necessarily afford a price increase. The function of state universities is to provide quality higher education at a lower price. This creates opportunities for students who would otherwise lack the necessary funds to pursue higher education. By putting a higher price on the courses that are required for moving on to four-year colleges and universities, Santa Monica College was marginalizing those who could not afford to take the higher-level courses.

Through the two-tier system, the college would have, in effect, been creating a system of two-tier students. To ensure that all courses remain equally accessible, and that the system stays ethical, the college should have raised tuition for all courses across the board, ensuring that there was a more level playing field for all students.

By increasing the cost per credit hour by a very small increment for all classes, the college would have ensured that all students bore the burden of the financial difficulties.

Rebecca Chowske, GSE ’92, who works as the Language Arts Director for the Wantagh School District, supported this opinion but recognized its inherent complexities.

“It’s not a simple issue,” Chowske said. “School districts like my own are faced with increased unfunded state and federal mandates and a two percent tax cap. That being said, public schools have a fundamental and lawful responsibility for fair and equal access to a comparable education.”

“I’m concerned that knowledge and innovation will suffer if we move entirely into the law of the marketplace,” she added. “If we choose who will stand and who will sit out of knowledge building, we will hobble our national innovation — and ultimately our economy. I think the two-tiered system is penny-wise and dollar foolish.”

With the rapid and consistent growth rate in college applications and the weak economy, it is not out of the realm of possibility that systems like that of Santa Monica College could begin to appear elsewhere. Junior colleges like Santa Monica could simply be the metaphorical canaries in the coal mine of university education.

Since similar problems with classes filling up too quicky apply to many schools, it is also possible that four-year colleges and universities could resort to similar plans, especially with courses that are needed to apply to law school and medical school. Santa Monica College’s policy, while unethical, could very well be a sign of things to come. 

Nikos Buse, FCRH ’14, is a Spanish major from Marin County, Calif.

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