Measure to Eliminate College ‘Drop Fees’ Gains

Times Staff Writer

A bill that would allow community colleges to eliminate the controversial $10 fee charged to students who drop a class seems certain to pass the Legislature this week.

The proposal by Assemblyman Richard Campbell (D-Richmond) has been approved by the Assembly and Senate and will return to the Assembly for routine action before being sent to Gov. George Deukmejian’s office.

Members of Deukmejian’s staff, however, declined Monday to say whether he would sign or veto the measure.


Orange County community college officials contend that the $10 penalty has contributed to a decrease in college enrollment in recent years, especially among minorities.

The so-called “drop fee” was enacted in 1983 by legislative critics of community colleges who--with Deukmejian’s support--argued that too many students were signing up for classes they had no intention of continuing, thus wasting state money.

$10 Fee Charged

Currently, any community college student who quits a class after the second week of the semester must pay the $10 fee, up to a $20 maximum. Students who have not paid fees for dropped classes cannot re-enroll at community colleges.

Hal Bateman, dean of admissions at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana, said Monday that about 6,000 students there now owe drop fees. He noted that none of these could re-enroll until they pay the fees.

‘I don’t know how many students are discouraged from re-enrolling by this, but I’m worried about the effect on minorities,’ Bateman said.

Rancho Santiago College serves Santa Ana and Garden Grove, which have large Latino and Southeast Asian populations. Although Rancho Santiago has a 30% minority enrollment--one of the highest in the state--college trustees recently said that there are too few Latinos enrolled.

Bateman and other critics say that the cost of the drop fees, added to the recently imposed $50-a-semester tuition at community colleges, discourages poor students from enrolling in these schools.

Fee ‘Defies Logic’

California’s first-ever community college tuition was instituted in the fall of 1984 with Deukmejian’s support and after a long legislative fight. Community college officials believe the threat of forfeiting the $50 tuition payment has made students more cautious in dropping classes--thus making the drop fee unnecessary.

‘It (the drop fee) is a nuisance,’ said Fred Garcia, acting president of Golden West College in Huntington Beach. “It’s a very hard thing to explain to students. We charge them when they come in (with tuition) and then we demand money if they want to drop a course.

“It defies logic. It’s one of the most difficult things we have to explain to students.”

The California Postsecondary Education Commission, an advisory body appointed by state officials, has endorsed repeal of the drop fees at community colleges.

During a commission meeting here Monday, Suzanne Ness, a staff member, reported that Campbell’s proposal is “going to the governor, but we’ve been told that the governor’s advisers are urging him to veto the bill.”

Campbell, however, said he is unsure what the governor will do.

“I’m hoping he’ll see that it’s a double penalty for students to have to lose both their $50 tuition and up to $20 in drop fees if they leave college,” the legislator said.

“I’m convinced that these (drop) fees are a reason that community colleges dropped an average of 10% per year for the past two years.

“We Democrats in the Legislature supported drop fees (in 1983) because we thought it was a way of avoiding tuition at the community colleges. But the next year, when the mandatory fees (tuition) finally passed, we should have repealed the drop fees. It’s not fair to have both.”

After the commission meeting, William Cunningham, Deukmejian’s education adviser, said he hasn’t made any recommendation yet on the proposal.

“We’ll be looking it over,” Cunningham said.