SANTA MONICA (AP) — The board of trustees at Santa Monica College voted Friday to postpone a two-tiered fee scale that brought angry campus protests where students were pepper-sprayed.
The board decided at an emergency meeting to wait on a plan to deal with budget cuts by offering high-demand core courses at about four times the regular price.
“I feel we need to pause and take a broader look and spend more time and dialogue (on) the merits and impact of this pilot self-supporting fee-based program,” SMC President Chui Tsang told the board and audience, which responded with applause.
On the 6-0 vote, the board followed the recommendation of college President Chui Tsang, who circulated a memo before the meeting urging that the plan be put on hold at least for summer classes to allow more time for community input.
His request to the board also hinted at the college funding woes that prompted the fee plan.
“I must warn that this postponement in no way addresses the state funding crisis and the lack of seats for our students to progress in a timely way,” said the resolution obtained by The Associated Press.
The trustees had approved the two-tier fee scale last month.
Students called for a referendum on the measure, and California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott asked Tsang to put the plan on hold, expressing concerns about its legality. The school has said its lawyers have concluded the plan is legal.
On Tuesday night, dozens of students were pepper-sprayed by police as they tried to push their way into a trustees meeting.
There was a heavy police presence at the building where Friday’s meeting was being held. Several dozen people waited in line to get inside but there was no violence.
“This is not the kind of college that we are, and we don’t want this to ever happen again,” Tsang said Friday. “And it hurts me to know that we have students, staff, faculty members who sustained injuries as a result of the incident.”
Students at the college have struggled to complete their degrees in recent years as budget cuts have resulted in fewer classes. About 1,100 classes out of 7,430 have been slashed since 2008 at the Santa Monica campus.
Under the two-tier plan, a nonprofit foundation would be formed to offer courses for about $600 each, or about $200 per unit. The extra courses at the higher rate would help students who were not able to get into the full, in-demand classes.
One student at today’s meeting noted that two-tiered tuition program never would have gotten a second look if not for the pepper-spraying incident.
“Without the actions that happened on Tuesday, this would not be happening here,” he said. “We wouldn’t have gotten the media coverage …”
California community college budgets have seen more than $800 million in cuts over the past three years, causing them to turn away about 200,000 students and drastically cut course offerings.
The Santa Monica school has an enrollment of roughly 30,000 students.
Other campuses may be watching what happens with Santa Monica’s program very closely. Several colleges also have inquired about starting similar programs.
An Assembly bill last year would have allowed the higher-fee programs, but it did not pass. Fourteen colleges and college districts supported the measure.
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