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You may be able to pay for school, but you can’t buy class
When the recession began in the United States in the fall of 2008, American universities felt the hit in all of their main sources of revenue—fewer students able to pay high tuition, attendance down at sporting events, and donors contributing significantly less to endowments. Georgetown, for one, set priorities based on financial constraints by attempting to stifle staff layoffs and focusing alumni money on financial aid.
Other colleges, in direr budget straits than Georgetown, had to find other ways to cut costs and increase revenue. Many universities throughout the U.S. resolved to cancel hundreds of classes—in the process laying off adjunct professors and delaying hiring tenure-track positions. These decisions have caused remaining classes to grow overcrowded, reducing the amount of time each student gets with the professor.
Santa Monica College, however, has taken a different approach to addressing funding problems within the higher education system. Recently, the southern Californian college unveiled its new initiative to remain fiscally sound as well as classroom-conscious. As of summer 2012, the school will increase fees for its most popular summer courses in the hopes of both reducing the overcrowding in its lecture halls and increasing revenue. Santa Monica College currently charges 36 dollars per credit-hour; under the plan, the most popular summer courses would cost 180 dollars per credit hour, a five-fold increase. Theoretically, that money could be used to offset increases in tuition for lower-income students, but the college has not given precise plans about what the increased revenue will fund.
Though the proposal to charge students more money for popular college courses is a product of good intentions on the part of the college’s administration, it creates more problems than it seeks to resolve. For one, many college courses that students need to meet job and graduation requirements fill up quickly, leaving many late registrants disappointed. These students often find themselves in classes that cater to neither their needs nor the requirements of their own degrees. As a result, many of them end up paying for an education that is not necessarily structured towards practical career development. Those students who would be able to register for pricier courses are not necessarily more experienced, knowledgeable, or deserving, but rather just more wealthy.
For example, some of the largest classes across the United States are introductory biology, chemistry, and other pre-medicine or pre-pharmacy classes. If only wealthy students can register for these popular classes, then how can students in lower income brackets break the cycle of poverty? Education is the key to personal and societal advancement, and gouging students is not the way to move the country forward.
This misguided policy divides students on economic grounds alone, and, as a result, goes against the fundamental values of the United States’s education system. There is no guarantee that hiked fees in the summer and winter will meet the demand threshold—overcrowding may simply proliferate in the fall and spring semesters, causing class fees to continue growing in a never-ending counterproductive cycle. Students, especially immigrants and low-income family students in community-college classes, may be forced to drop out or delay their college educations in hopes of earning more money.
Earlier this year, President Obama proposed a plan to slow increases in college tuition by cutting federal funding to colleges that continuously increase tuition, incentivizing steady rates. His plan places the responsibility to keep costs down squarely on the colleges themselves, the institutions which actually have the power to keep college affordable. Santa Monica College is ultimately using its power to hike tuition rates in the present to favor of a positive economic and educational result in the future that may not necessarily occur. Its proposal has intentions, but it is lowering the quality and opportunity for education in the United States.