In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the controversial Assembly Bill 955, which allows six colleges to charge students out-of-state rates for high-demand classes, such as English and algebra, during the winter and summer sessions. This means about $200 a unit, as compared to the current $46.

“This pilot program is a horrible idea,” says Jim Mahler, president of the CFT Community College Council, “and is the antithesis of the community college mission to provide access for all. If you’re the rich kid, you have the opportunity to take a class,” he said. “If you’re not the rich kid, well, just wait your turn.”

Many educators agree with Mahler. Out of the six colleges included in the pilot program — Pasadena City College, College of the Canyons, Long Beach City College, Solano Community College, Crafton Hills Community College, and Oxnard College — only one, Long Beach City College, will implement the program in the winter session. 

“I think it’s telling that you sign a bill into law and five of the six districts don’t want it,” Mahler said. “And at Long Beach, only the college president wants it. The students and the faculty and the staff don’t.” 

One faculty member who spoke out against the program at a board of trustees meeting in Long Beach is Velvet Pearson, an English teacher and a member of the faculty union’s executive board. She said not only would it be hard to see real student improvement in an abbreviated writing class lasting only 4-6 weeks, but that creating two tracks for education hurts working class students. 

“Long Beach is a really impoverished urban area,” she said. “We do have beautiful, wealthy neighborhoods, but many of our students are living below the poverty level.”
Pearson doesn’t buy the argument that this just gives students who need to transfer another option.

“That sounds classist,” she said. “It’s like, ‘If you have the money, you can make the choice, and if you don’t, you can’t.’ And if you look at who this is going to affect, it seems racist as well.”

Peter Mathews, who teaches sociology part time at Long Beach and has written several op-eds in local newspapers against the pilot program, says it makes education a privilege rather than a right. 

“California’s Master Plan promised affordable education,” Mathews said, referring to the 1960 document established by Gov. Brown’s father, Pat Brown, when he was governor. “These politicians got their educations free, and now they’re taking it away from the next generation.”

Steve Hall, a math teacher at Oxnard College and president of the Ventura County Federation of College Teachers, says he wasn’t surprised that Oxnard won’t participate in the pilot project.

“The students were opposed to it, the teachers were opposed, and the administration was opposed,” he said. “Why would anyone want to implement it?”

There are other ways to get money so everyone has access to classes, Hall says. “I just think it’s a bad idea to address the problem of access with increased tuition. It’s more appropriate to advocate for increased growth funding, so that all students have an equal opportunity to benefit.”

Similarly, the president of Pasadena City College, Mark Rocha, has consistently reiterated his opposition to the bill, telling faculty and staff in September, “two-tier tuition will not happen at PCC under any circumstances.”

That’s because AB 955 would hurt the majority of their students, says Valerie Wardlaw, public relations officer for the school. 

“Our goal is to treat all our students equally and our vision for the future is that we have a community college that any student who wants to come, can, and not have to pay at all,” she said. “To have the students who can’t pay just left out flies in the face of that.” 

— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter

California’s Master Plan promised affordable education. These politicians got their educations free, and now they’re taking it away from the next generation.

— Peter Mathews, Long Beach City College