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Santa Monica College Protest Highlights California Education Crisis

by Bob Morris, published

A rowdy demonstration last week against the imposition of two-tiered fees at normally laid-back Santa Monica College may have been a near-riot, but it forced their Board of Trustees to back down. The two-tiered plan would price high-demand classes at $180 a unit rather than the current $46 a unit.

Green Party congressional candidate David Steinman was at the protest and got tear gassed, as did many others. He says the high-demand classes are needed to graduate, and this puts an undue burden on low income students who either won't be able to afford it or will go into debt to pay for it. College officials say that decreased state funding has led to thousands of classes being cancelled across the state, including at SMC.  The two-tiered plan would turn the high demand classes over to a nonprofit who would offer them at full cost. The California State University system has also been experimenting with a similar plan.

There was a time when community colleges in California were free.  California’s higher education system used to be the envy of the nation. Students could get a quality education for little or no money. Clearly, these subsidized educations help the economy at large as the students can then get better-paying jobs, pay more in taxes, buy houses, etc. But the California budget crisis and the resulting cuts in spending for education have decimated the system. If two-tiered plans become common, it could create a self-perpetuating two-tiered class system composed of those who can afford to pay and those who can’t. Low income students may find their way blocked to moving up the socioeconomic ladder. Is this what California wants?

Hundreds of students turned out for the SMC protest. The Board of Trustees deliberately choose a small meeting room so fewer could be in it. They also had Santa Monica Police standing by. Students demanded to enter and when police opened the door to allow a few chosen ones in, other students piled in the room. Teargas was used and the meeting ended prematurely. The board has announced they are postponing the two-tiered plan. Occupy has come to the community college system in California, the protests will no doubt continue there and elsewhere.

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