Santa Monica College students protest summer fees


About 100 students protesting a plan to offer high-priced courses at Santa Monica College this summer tried to storm into a meeting of the college’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday evening.

A handful of protesters suffered minor injuries as campus police tried to prevent dozens of chanting students from disrupting the meeting during a public comment period. Several were overcome when pepper spray was released just outside the meeting room as officers tried to break up the crowd. Two people were taken to a hospital.

Police are investigating the circumstances of when the pepper spray was used and by whom.

The protest came on the same day that a group of students said that it will call for a campus strike if the school moves forward with plans to offer the two-tier pricing plan.

Members of the Student Organizing Committee said they want a campuswide referendum before administrators begin implementing the program, which will offer such high-demand core courses as English, history, math and biology at a cost of about $180 per unit.

The classes would be offered along with many of the same state-funded courses, which are set at $46 per unit during the upcoming summer session

Campus officials said that providing students an option of paying more for a guaranteed spot in the classes they need will allow them to transfer and graduate more quickly, something that has become more difficult in recent years due to state funding cuts.

The two-year campus has had to pare more than 1,000 classes since 2008 while elsewhere many community colleges are discontinuing summer and winter sessions.

But many students complain that they weren’t given a voice before the plan was approved by the Board of Trustees on March 6.

They contend that the program is unfair for those who can’t afford the so-called self-funded courses and argue that the move will lead to privatizing public education.

Johnny Torres, 21, a sociology student, said he needs summer classes to avoid staying in school another year, but will not be able to afford the premium classes. “I’m going to end up having to find another school to find the classes, because $200 is not an option,” he said.

Santa Monica College spokesman Bruce Smith said the idea of offering high-priced classes was aired publicly prior to the board vote. “The board has made its decision and is moving ahead,” Smith said. “They’re confident in the plan and eager to see how these classes fill up. We feel like we followed a transparent process.”

Under the tuition plan, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, the school is creating a nonprofit organization called the Santa Monica Career and Transfer Alliance, which will offer the courses at full cost.

The foundation will offer about 50 class sections in courses such as accounting, art history, economics, Japanese, music history, speech and psychology — 18 courses in all. If the classes fill up, more will be added, depending on the availability of instructors and classrooms. California residents will pay about $540 per class and non-residents will pay about $840.

Students will be able to apply for some financial aid and the college is providing about 300 scholarships of about $300 each for needy students.

Campus officials said they are on solid legal footing with the two-tier program. But the California Community Colleges chancellor’s office contends that state law does not appear to allow students to be charged differential fees for the types of courses Santa Monica plans to offer.