37th District Assemblyman Das Williams has introduced AB 955, a bill which would allow community colleges to implement extension-type programs similar to what many UC and CSU campuses currently employ.
With AB 955, students at community colleges would have the option of paying higher prices for additional courses offered in the winter and summer. While a traditional five unit course at a community college costs approximately $150 for state residents, a comparable class under the proposed extension program would have a price upwards of $500.
Despite the higher price, Williams has described his bill as a necessary measure to ensure the availability of classes — a problem which, in his opinion, is of equal importance to the rising cost of attendance.
“We have access at an all-time low. [This past year] what the community college did was instead of raising fees at all, they just cut back classes,” Williams said. “Access is not being limited by fees within the community college; it’s being limited by the fact that you can’t get any classes.”
Williams’ bill is not the first attempt to implement such a program at either a state or a municipal level. In 2011 Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, then a representative of the 41st District in Los Angeles County, unsuccessfully sponsored AB 515, a bill which would have allowed the creation of community college extension programs statewide.
The following year, campus administrators at Santa Monica College sought to implement a similar program exclusive to their campus. The plan was met with concern that a two-tiered fee structure would limit access to courses based on students’ financial standing. Amid student protests and threats of legal action from the Community College Chancellor’s Office, the plan was ultimately abandoned.
Despite a history of concern that the bill could lead to economic inequalities among students, Williams stated that a similar inequality is emerging between the students who are able to enroll in classes and those who are turned away as a result of the decrease in course offerings. In addition, he claimed that a lack of other available options for providing classes makes his bill a necessity.
“I just think the status quo is unacceptable. And I think [those in opposition] — if they, like I — agree that we need to protect access for students, then they sure as hell better support something,” Williams said. “Because all they’re doing right now is shooting down every idea for providing students with access.”
Former Associated Student President for Santa Monica College Harrison Wills, who served his position at the campus during its attempted implementation of the program similar to AB 955, said the bill does not adequately address the need for affordable classes at the community college level.
“Politicians are out of touch with working class and poor people; they can’t figure it out. They can’t seem to understand that [community college] students don’t just have an extra $1,000 lying around for more expensive, unsubsidized classes,” Wills said.
According to Wills, AB 955 would be a quick and unhealthy solution to a complex problem.
“The notion of many in the California legislature is ‘we don’t know what else to do, we’re running out of money.’ I understand the idea that we need new revenue, but why would we increase the fees on the people who are least able to afford it?” Wills said. “It’s a means of alleviating the pressure for a real reform which would be fair and honest and democratic. Affordable and equal access to education strengthens democracy, so removing access by implementing an unequal tuition system is harmful to our economy, our democracy and our society.”