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Santa Monica College Students Protest New Tuition System  


By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

April 4, 2012 -- Tensions over a proposed two-tier tuition system at Santa Monica College came to a head when campus police used pepper spray to subdue a group of students who stormed into a Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night.

The students, who were protesting a controversial new plan to offer more of SMC's most demanded classes at a higher tuition, flooded into the board room, overrunning "the door and the personnel stationed at the door,” according to an official statement issued by SMC President Chui L. Tsang.

 “The college had arranged for meeting participants to first be seated in the Board Room proper and overflow participants to be seated in an adjacent room,” Tsang said. But a large group "chose not to enter the overflow room and instead congregated in a corridor outside the Board Room.”

According to Tsang, no arrests were made, despite “a number of participants... engaged in unlawful conduct” such as setting off fire alarms.

The college has launched an investigation into the matter, Tsang said.

The plan that the students were protesting would be the first of its kind in the nation and has been a source of student ire since it was approved in March, quickly garnering national attention.

The “enrollment contract educational program” creates a non-profit organization designed to offer classes with the highest demand on SMC's campus that were discontinued during the winter and summer due to State budget cuts.  The program will have no effect on the regular spring and fall sessions.

The self-funding program would allow students who aren't able to get into the courses during regular sessions to take the same classes with SMC professors. But because the non-profit institution would not benefit from State subsidies, it would have to pay for the full cost of holding the classes itself.

Classes offered through the new contract educational program would cost approximately $180 per unit. Currently, state-funded classes cost students $46 per unit.

While students who are opposed to the plan accuse college officials of trying to privatize public education, SMC spokesman Bruce Smith says the plan may be the SMC's only option for saving the winter and summer sessions.

Despite the increase, Tsang said the education at SMC is still much cheaper than that offered by the State's other public education institutions.

The cost, which would be $540 for a three-unit class, was calculated to assure that it is just high enough to pay teachers' salaries and facility costs.

“The intent of the program is to immediately increase the number of total classroom seats available and provide a way for students to make progress towards their goals,” Tsang said.

Over the past four years, SMC – along with other public higher education institutions across California – has lost 13 percent of its funding, Smith said.

“This year alone, SMC was cut $11 million,” Smith said.

Despite that loss of funding, Smith said, SMC remains one of the few colleges that has not cut winter courses, but, he added, that won't be the case for long.

Students argue that the program subverts the very idea of community college by putting these courses out of the reach of lower income students, and members of the student government have demanded that the Board of Trustees put the matter to a campus vote. They also are calling for a rollback in employee salaries.

No serious injuries were reported as a result of Tuesday night's protests, and President Tsang has informed students who may have been injured in the protests to submit their medical bills to the student affairs office.


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