A Das Williams–authored bill that would allow six community colleges to offer extension courses during the winter and summer passed in both houses of the Legislature this week. The goal of AB 955 is to increase time-to-degree for students, but many critics say it creates a two-tier system where wealthier students get a leg up.
The six campuses are Crafton Hills College, College of the Canyons, Long Beach City College, Oxnard College, Pasadena City College, and Solano Community College. They will be able to offer full-cost, nonsubsidized courses for credit, meaning that California students would have to pay the same amount for those classes as an out-of-state student typically pays. At Santa Barbara City College, that number would be $212 per unit as opposed to $46.
Williams’s staff, however, did not approach Santa Barbara City College because of past lack of support from the Academic Senate and Board of Trustees. “I would have loved to have SBCC be in the pilot for the benefit of students, but I saw so much resistance that even if I included them in the law, it never would have happened,” said Williams, chair of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee. City College President Lori Gaskin diplomatically said, “Personally, I’ve always been one to advocate experimenting in the educational arena and to pilot specific risks. Assemblymember Williams advocating doing so is a positive. It allows us to test the waters with a control group.” The original bill proposed to allow all community colleges to offer extension courses, but it was pared down to a pilot program in the Senate Education Committee.
For some time, Williams has been arguing that although community colleges are underfunded, the crisis of access needs to be addressed with fiscal as well as non-fiscal solutions. He also argues that many of the students who need more courses would be eligible for aid that would cover the costs of extension courses. Moreover, he believes more seats would be opened up during regular semesters.
While the passage of AB 955 is a huge win for Williams, he was seemingly further punished for missing a floor session to attend his mother-in-law’s wedding in Hawai‘i when he lost his assignment to the Utilities and Commerce Committee. He said, however, that he requested a move to the Banking and Finance Committee because he couldn’t serve on both.