Long Beach City College (LBCC) students may soon be able to take some high-demand courses during the winter and summer intersessions, but it won’t be cheap. Students may have to pay nearly five times more than the normal rate and equivalent to the college’s non-residential fee, according to college officials.
The courses are offered through a controversial new self-supporting pilot program being called an “experiment.” The fee-based program is an effort to provide students with more access to classes after devastating state budget cuts have eviscerated academic programs, leaving some college campuses severely impacted.
LBCC is one of six overcrowded community colleges eligible to develop pilot programs under state legislation known as AB 955, authored by Assemblymember Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara). Gov. Jerry Brown officially signed the bill into law on Oct. 10 after it passed the California State Legislature.
The LBCC Board of Trustees will consider a proposed fee structure at its Oct. 22 meeting, said Richard Garcia, spokesperson for LBCC. He said the structure would include a discounted rate for Board of Governor’s Fee Waiver (BOGFW) eligible students. LBCC also expects to provide scholarships to “help lessen the overall per-unit cost” for these students, Garcia said.
The voluntary program that ends on Jan. 1, 2018 gives students the opportunity to take classes during the fast-paced winter and summer intersessions if they couldn’t enroll during fall and spring semesters in the past two academic years because of overcrowding.
Garcia said LBCC officials are looking at charging $225 per unit ($900 for a four-unit class), which is equal to the non-residential fee. Low-income students who apply for and are granted BOGFW and scholarships, however, would pay less than $100 per unit, he said. Generally, California community colleges charge about $46 a unit for intersession classes.
Still, LBCC officials have yet to release a final fee structure, Garcia noted.
“There is a lot of information out, but the fact remains no fee structure has been set as yet,” he said. “The goal is to enable students to obtain and enroll in high-demand courses during the fee-based extension term.”
Garcia said a state-supported course schedule is currently being developed with enrollment/course descriptions expected to be available in November. “We expect a small number of high-demand courses to be offered through the newly established fee-based extension if approved by the Board of Trustees,” he said.
So far, LBCC officials are optimistic, but they admit that it’s unknown whether students will be willing to pay more for courses in order to finish school faster. Winter intersession classes at LBCC are from Jan. 2 to Jan. 31, according to the college’s catalog.
Jeff Kellogg, LBCC Board of Trustees president, said in a phone interview that other colleges might want to be included if the pilot program in fact proves to be a success.
“If Long Beach City College is successful in addressing the needs, and it is received favorably by the students to help them, these other colleges are going to be scampering to be able to do what we’re doing in Long Beach,” he said. “I feel very optimistic that it will be a very positive opportunity for our students, and the other colleges are going to wonder why they didn’t get included as well.”
Brown’s approval of the proposal went as far as his issuing a statement to the State Assembly, calling the program a “reasonable experiment,” and adding, “Why deny these campuses the opportunity to offer students access and financial assistance to courses not otherwise available?”
But, leading up to the bill’s passage, students, faculty, administrators and lawmakers have been divided on the proposal, with some critics saying it creates a “two-tier” education system, “privatizes” public education and discriminates against poor students who can’t afford the higher fees.
Earlier this year, LBCC student leaders staged a protest against the bill, and California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris expressed opposition in a letter.
Dean Murakami, president of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, referred to the legislation in a statement as a “toll-lane for the economically privileged,” which “runs counter to the very purpose of these institutions.”
He also said the bill is “poorly constructed” and four of the six colleges listed are “either ineligible or uninterested in participating, with a fifth desiring to consult with faculty and students before moving forward.”
Eloy Ortiz Oakley, LBCC superintendent-president, who worked with Williams on drafting the legislation, said in a statement that AB 955 is “an innovative and progressive approach” to addressing reduced access caused by “years of funding cuts to community colleges.”
The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) reported in March that course offerings have declined by 21 percent since 2008, which is a loss of 86,000 course sections. PPIC also estimates that 600,000 students have been turned away from community colleges in the past five years, and another 500,000 students were on waiting lists for fall 2012 courses.
At the beginning of the fall semester at LBCC this year, there were 14,000 students on waitlists, according to college officials. Oakley said the program would help expand opportunities for LBCC students to reach their educational goals and allow students to move forward in their college careers with more “expediency.” The proposal also allows military veterans to fully utilize their GI Bill benefits to cover housing and educational costs, preventing the loss of coverage due to lack of enrollment status, he noted.
Kellogg said he understands why some full-time faculty members have raised concerns since the program is “different” than how classes are typically funded. But he said some colleges that have indicated they may back out are just getting “political cold feet.”
The notion that AB 955 “privatizes” public education is a “political catchphrase” and doesn’t hold any real substance, Kellogg added. “I think that’s just more of a word that’s being thrown around that has no real bearing on this issue,” he said. “It’s being used more for political reasons than realistic reasons.”
Kellogg noted that, even though voters passed Proposition 30, the tax-increasing measure is only a “temporary fix” and LBCC is still “underfunded” from 2007 levels. “It’s still a challenge,” he said. “There’s no easy answer anymore.”
Community colleges eligible to start the pilot program other than LBCC include College of the Canyons, Crafton Hills College, Oxnard College, Pasadena City College and Solano Community College. ß