The Privatizing Scholarship at Santa Monica College

Santa Monica College, a community college in California, recently proposed charging different tuition rates for different courses. Students taking high-demand courses would pay more money. Less popular courses would be cheaper.

The two-tiered policy has drawn criticism, in part because it’s probably illegal. But one couple is apparently really enthusiastic about the proposal.

According to an article by Carla Rivera in the Los Angeles Times:

Santa Monica College’s plan to offer some high-demand classes at a premium cost received a boost Thursday with the announcement of a $250,000 donation to support scholarships for students who qualify.

The donors are businessman Daniel Greenberg and his wife, attorney and civic activist Susan Steinhauser, two longtime supporters whose previous giving has centered on the Broad Stage of the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center.

Greenberg, who is a trustee of the National Public Radio Foundation and serves on the board of trustees of Reed College, founded Electro Rent Corporation, a company that provides short-term rental of personal computers, engineering workstations, and electronic test equipment, presumably to companies.

Greenberg said that he respects the risk taken by Chui Tsang, the president of Santa Monica College: “He has not dealt with this by avoiding the issues but by confronting them and hopefully has found a really good way of tackling them,” Greenberg said.

No doubt Mr. Greenberg has only the interests of Santa Monica students in mind. His donation is certainly generous. But come on. Okay, you want “confront the issue”? How many more colleges are going to deal with declining state funding by charging students more money to take required courses? All the colleges can’t count on the largess of the Electro Rent man.

The real policy solution to this problem is for California to just have higher taxes on rich people like, well, Daniel Greenberg.

California needs these higher taxes in order to provide necessary support for higher education, making this questionable dual pricing system (and voluntary private donations) unnecessary.

Through the middle of the 1980’s community colleges in California were free.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer