Back in March Santa Monica College, a community college in California, decided to raise money by charging students different tuition rates for different classes. Students who wanted to take higher-demand courses would have to pay more money. The school would have created about 50 special high-demand courses. Students taking those courses would pay about four times normal tuition.

Then Santa Monica backed down in April after students protested and California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott said the two-tiered tuition plan was probably illegal.

Now the Santa Monica plan is getting a new life. According to an article by Paul Fain in Inside Higher Ed:

That could change if Roderick D. Wright gets his way. The California state senator in February introduced legislation that would smooth the way for community colleges to do essentially what Santa Monica’s governing board proposed, by authorizing the creation of “self-supporting” extension programs that offer credit-bearing courses.

[Wright’s legislative director] said one aim of the legislation is to create more seats at community colleges so students won’t be lured into expensive for-profit degree programs of questionable value.

That’s perhaps commendable but this solution seems really half-baked. If a college tries to create a program that’s four times more expensive and has to give up on that plan because students protest and the head of the community colleges says the plan is illegal, an appropriate solution is not to just to make it illegal; the plan is still bad.

Back in March Chancellor Jack Scott explained that he understood where the college got its idea, however bad it was. As Scott said:

I cannot fault college leaders for searching for new approaches to serve students hungry for the opportunity to receive a college education. Tragically, we as a state have failed to properly fund community colleges, and our economy will suffer as a result.

That’s the problem: the legislature isn’t properly funding community colleges. Try fixing that problem, Wright. A roundabout solution requiring the students to pay for the legislature’s mistakes won’t solve this, even if it would keep some students out of for-profit colleges.

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