Long Beach City College (LBCC) is the first community college in the state that has agreed to participate in a controversial pilot program that offers a handful of high-demand classes during winter and summer intersessions at higher tuition rates as a solution to impacted regular semesters.
Despite protests from some students and faculty, the Long Beach Community College Board of Trustees voted 4-0 at its Oct. 22 meeting to approve a new fee structure and notify the California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris that the college is implementing the program this winter intersession. Trustee Roberto Uranga was absent.
LBCC is one of six community colleges that were originally listed as eligible for the five-year pilot program under legislation known as AB 955, which the State Legislature approved and Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law. Assemblymember Das Williams (D–Santa Barbara) authored the bill.
The goal is to increase access to classes that otherwise are impacted during regular semesters. College officials said thousands of students have been turned away from classes in recent years as a result of state budget cuts that slashed programs and that funding from voter-approved Proposition 30 isn’t enough to meet student demand.
“At Long Beach City College, we’re trying to solve problems instead of just acknowledging that the problem exists, because anyone can do that,” said Board of Trustees President Jeff Kellogg. “The tough thing to do is make the hard choices to try to address them. I hope we’re right. I hope students take advantage of it, and we’ll find out in a few months.”
Opponents of the program, however, voiced concerns that the new fee structure for intersession creates a “two-tier tuition system” that would be “unfair” to students who can’t afford the more expensive courses and are already drowning in debt. California Community Colleges Chancellor Harris has officially opposed the bill along with a number of faculty unions.
“It is a privileged pathway of broken promises,” said Lynn Shaw, president of the LBCC full-time faculty union. “I don’t know how anyone can think that dramatically raising tuition is a way to create educational access for our students and our community. Implementation of a two-tiered structure will create a system of apartheid.”
Even though the program requires that LBCC raise funds to provide financial aid to low-income students, Student Trustee Andrea Donado, who voted to oppose the program, said the legislation still discriminates against poor students currently struggling to pay for textbooks, food and housing. She said the bill will “open the door” for future “privatization” and tuition increases.
“AB 955 is a discriminatory bill that will eliminate the equal opportunity of the students to get to classes,” Donado said. “AB 955 is an unfair bill that will work just for a little percentage of students that can pay for this high-cost tuition… Long Beach City College should offer equal and affordable education for everybody. That’s what a community college is for.”
LBCC Superintendent-President Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who worked with the bill’s author on the legislation, however, pointed out that the high-cost extension courses are “strictly voluntary” and do not impact or replace any State-supported courses.
“Those of us who already have our education, we will sit here and have a philosophical debate about whether or not this is a slippery slope, but for the thousands and thousands of students who have not been able to get the degrees that [we] valued so much, we’re trying to find one more opportunity for them,” he said.
Oakley said there were more than 5,000 students on waiting lists for classes during the fall semester at LBCC and nearly 100,000 students on waiting lists at the college thoughout the past several years.
He said the Public Policy Institute of California has documented that more than 600,000 students have recently been denied access to California community colleges. The institute also reported that course offerings have declined by 21 percent since 2008, which is a loss of 86,000 course sections.
Some trustees said providing the high-cost option to help students graduate or transfer to a four-year college faster is better than doing nothing.
“As a member of the Board of Trustees at Long Beach City College, the choice is between implementing this or … doing nothing to expand access,” said Trustee Mark Bowen. “That’s the way I understood it.” Some faculty claimed that the board and administrators didn’t consult academic members and student leaders before Oakley started lobbying for the legislation on behalf of LBCC. Bowen said having an official vote on the action might have been best in “retrospect,” but he said trustees have been fully aware of the legislative effort.
While a few students held picket signs that read, “Education should not be a privilege,” one student took to the podium expressing support for the new courses. “If I’m in my very last semester, and I only need one more class in order to transfer, if I have the option of paying more in order to finish faster in order to go on and pursue my career in my life, I think it would be very beneficial,” she said.
Trustee Doug Otto noted that the program sunsets in 2018. He assured that the board and college staff would evaluate the new intersession system on a yearly basis.
Otto added that the courses would help open up space for future generations of students. “We talk about how important it is, with education becoming a scarce commodity, to make sure that students not only get in but they get out of here too,” Otto said. “Until they get out of here, they’re taking the seats of the generations that are coming behind them.”
Oakley confirmed that two of the six colleges listed in the legislation have elected not to implement the program this winter. He said both Pasadena City College and Oxnard College recently voted against initiating the program, however, in the case of Pasadena, the decision was based on the college moving to a tri-semester system.
Oakley also confirmed that two other colleges have been deemed ineligible but only for this winter’s intersession, adding that they have expressed interest in implementing the program next academic year. In order to be eligible, colleges must show enrollment capacity in the two preceding academic years prior to implementation.
Administrative staff said LBCC students are able to register for the four-to-five-week extension courses as soon as November. The winter intersession is from Jan. 6 to Feb. 8.
College officials said LBCC is expected to offer up to five of the high-demand courses. Impacted courses have been in sections such as English, math, anatomy, sociology, counseling, communications, biology, psychology, allied health, reading, statistics, food and nutrition, political science and history.