Keep community colleges affordable

Community colleges should not offer extra high-priced classes.

Daily Editorial Board

The ongoing debate over higher education funding continued this past week in Santa Monica, Calif. Santa Monica College found itself in the crosshairs of dwindling state funds and student protests as trustees proposed a two-tiered program for high-demand core courses. The proposed program would make classes where waiting lists are common five times more expensive. Unfortunately, this approach creates not only two tiers of courses, but two classes of students — those who can afford to pay extra and those forced to wait. Students protesting this change were pepper sprayed by police.

As a community college, Santa Monica College remains the affordable alternative to students of limited means. This two-tiered approach endangers that affordability at a time when students across the nation are finding a college degree further out of reach.

In Minnesota, community colleges are often used as a stepping stone to a four-year institution. At the University of Minnesota, about one-third of undergraduates are transfer students, and many of them arrive fresh from a community college. Whereas tuition and fees at the University are now just more than $13,000 per academic year, the average cost at a community college in Minnesota is about half that. For the first two years of college, this is a significant amount of savings many students find appealing or necessary.

For those entering college for the first time or seeking to transfer, academic competition, not cost, should be the driver. Separating students based on an ability to pay is already a factor as students seek to apply; it shouldn’t be a factor after students finally step on campus.