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Brown OKs higher fees for high-demand community college classes

California community colleges will now be able to charge more for high-demand classes during summer and winter terms under legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday.

The new law creates a voluntary pilot program that allows some colleges to charge non-resident tuition -- up to $200 per unit - -for hard-to-obtain classes such as college algebra, history and English that students need to graduate and transfer.

The plan is controversial and was opposed by students, faculty and community colleges Chancellor Brice Harris, who argued that it would create something like a fast-track pass for students who can pay.

It is similar in many respects to the two-tier plan attempted by Santa Monica College last year to offer high-priced classes during a summer extension program alongside state-funded courses, which are set by the Legislature at $46 per unit.

But supporters, including Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), who sponsored the legislation, argued that it would help free up bottlenecks that keep many students from completing course work and provide greater access.

The governor agreed.

“This seems like a reasonable experiment,” Brown said in a signing statement. “Why deny these campuses the opportunity to offer students access and financial assistance to courses not otherwise available.”

Although the legislation says the program is voluntary, it specifies six campuses -- Long Beach City College, Oxnard College, Pasadena City College, College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa and Solano College in Fairfield -- that should offer the courses by July.

However, some of the colleges are ineligible because of enrollment requirements and others have said they have no interest in participating. 

Officials at the Long Beach campus said they will move forward with the program, possibly this winter.

Some education advocates said they were disappointed in the governor’s action, which comes after colleges are beginning to increase course offerings and enrollment because of funding from Proposition 30, Brown’s measure that raised some taxes to support education and other needs.

“I’m happy the the governor recognizes that we have kind of a bottleneck problem but unhappy that he picked the wrong solution,” said Dean Florez, a former state senator who now leads the 20 Million Minds Foundation, an education nonprofit. “Those who can afford to pay will get through and those who can’t afford it will wait.”

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carla.rivera@latimes.com

Twitter: CarlaRiveraLat

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