Hot Button Issue: Should Popular College Classes Cost More Than Others?

We’ve all been there: just when your enrollment time rolls around, the class that you planned to take next semester is now full. Even though you need that class to qualify for another upper-division course, accept that dream internship AND graduate on time, there just aren’t enough seats. And when you attempt to crash the class, the wait list is moving at a glacial pace and you’re getting seriously desperate. How much would you pay to add that course? Would you pay more than four times the current fee per unit? Is that even fair? Is that even legal?!?

A few things are for certain: it’s happening, it’s pissing people off and, therefore, it’s the Hot Button Issue of the week.

According to the Los Angeles Times, an incredibly popular community college in Southern California will soon implement a two-tiered pricing system that offers high-demand classes at a much higher price. Class fees are currently set at $36 per unit and will rise to $46 beginning this summer. As part of the new system just approved by the school board, crucial classes at Santa Monica College will costs about $200 per unit. The new program would be offered as soon as this summer and winter — the latter of which may only offer the higher-priced classes. Hey, desperate times obviously call for desperate measures.

Here’s how it would work: when popular courses like English and math fill up completely, additional sections would be offered at the higher price. Note: the first round of courses are state-funded, which is why the cost per unit is cheaper than an embellished dress from ASOS). The extra classes would still be taught by campus faculty and would only supplement the current offerings in order to meet student demand, rather than raising prices for all classes, all the time. Government grants and financial aid would still apply, and the school is currently working to secure private funding to offer course scholarships.

Inevitably, upping the buck for anything gets people pissed off, but even more so because it alleviates opportunities for low-income students. People who choose to attend community college first and transfer to a four-year university afterwards sometimes do so solely to live at home, stay out of debt and save money on those general education courses that most of us don’t even use anyway — not because they didn’t get into the universities of their choice straight out of high school.

But hypothetically, if two students with shockingly similar academic records both need the same English course in order to meet a transfer application deadline and get out of Santa Monica College, the one who agrees to pay the higher price will be the one who stays on track, while the other tries their enrollment luck next semester and pushes back their anticipated transfer date another year or so. This rationing of education and lack of access is what defeats the purpose of community colleges altogether, which are supposed to serve the under served in the first place!

However, we should probably just face it once and for all: state funding for public post-secondary education is a hot commodity these days, and the money to pay for the classes that everybody wants must come from somewhere. If enough people are willing to pay a little extra — or a lot extra, proportionally — for that class to be properly funded and actually materialize, shouldn’t they be able to enroll? Or should their academic timelines and transfer transcripts suffer because the state budget can’t get it together and because their classmates can’t afford the same opportunity that they’re definitely paying extra to seize? If an individual can solve a problem brought on by a group they happen to be part of, maybe they should be able to do so for themselves and reap their own rewards.

How can current community college students avoid this altogether? Well, it’s not like people will simply stop going to Santa Monica College as a form of protest — all CC’s are not created equal, and the 34,000-student Santa Monica campus has one of the highest transfer rates to four-year universities in the state and a reputation for innovative programs that are a model for other community colleges. Which means that this two-tier pricing program could soon be implemented at a community college near you…and at the rate that universities are losing public funding as well, I wonder which four-year college will be first to quadruple charge for enrollment in Introduction to Biology and Macroeconomics…

Are crucial classes worth the hefty price tag? Or is Santa Monica College’s new pricing program completely ridiculous, unfair and unethical?

Ashley is a UC San Diego grad who is holding on way too tightly to a potential career in magazines and goes to Vegas all too often. She’s fascinated with celebrities and strawberry beer and doubles as a pathological texter/emailer/blogger. Feed the addiction with tweets @cashleelee. Thanks in advance.

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