SMC — Students who are not from California but plan to attend Santa Monica College in the fall of 2011 will have to pay more for their classes if a bill sponsored by a local state legislator is approved in the coming weeks.

Assembly Bill 2297, introduced by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), is intended to correct unintended consequences of an existing law, which reduces the tuition for out-of-state students if less money is spent on community colleges by the state Legislature, said Don Girard, senior director of government relations and institutional communications at SMC.

The bill is supported by the SMC Board of Trustees and SMC President Dr. Chui L. Tsang. AB 2297 was passed unanimously by the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee in early April and now awaits action in the state Senate.

According to those in favor of the bill, California has become one of the least expensive states for nonresident students to attend community college. At SMC this spring, there were about 25,792 students from California, 1,058 out-of-state students, and 3,067 international students.

Brownley said that the problem was brought to her attention by SMC, and after they discussed it with her she realized it could be worked out through legislation.

“Fundamentally, I think it’s an issue of fairness. If a student from California went to another community college in another state they’d be charged additional fees because of that,” Brownley said. “The way that formula works in reverse is that we are spending additional dollars to subsidize foreign or nonresident students to participate in our community colleges.”

Under the current formula, the state average nonresident tuition fee has been reduced from $190 per semester unit for 2009-10 to $183 per semester unit in 2010-11.

“The current law is written so that it bases what you can charge on what the state is spending,” SMC Board of Trustees member Louise Jaffe said. “Since the state’s spending is going down, it would mean we would have to charge nonresident students less, unless there’s a correction.

“We don’t believe it’s an appropriate time to be reducing fees for nonresident students,” she added.

SMC Board of Trustees member Dr. Nancy Greenstein agreed.

“It’s about the community colleges in California,” she said. “They’re all cutting back programs at Cal States and UCs. We have students that don’t really have too many opportunities to find additional sources of money.”

The bill is intended to adjust the fees so that they are roughly equivalent to what other states charge their nonresident students, and it would add tens of millions of dollars to the state, Girard said. It is not sure how much the rate would raise, but the cap would be based on another formula which would include the 12 most comparable states to California.

“We’re way below what that group of states charges,” Girard said. The average for these states’ nonresident tuition fees for public two-year colleges was $280 per semester unit, in comparison to California’s average of $190. Even for all 50 states, California remains less expensive as that average is $249 per semester unit, according to figures provided by Brownley’s office.

Additionally, nonresident students in California also do not pay the full cost of their education, as opposed to other states, Brownley said. The education is augmented by California tax dollars to support education.

The bill would not only allow for a community college to charge nonresident students more in down years, it would also give community college districts more flexibility to set fees. Existing law does not allow districts to include such factors as interest expense, depreciation, imputed rent, use of equipment and cost of transportation.

Daniel Ross, a SMC nonresident student, was wary about the proposed changes, saying individual districts should not have the power to set their own fees. He thinks that something as important as fees should be state legislated, even with a maximum limit on what each district could charge.

“It could lead to questionable practices,” he said. He also explained that he could find the fee hike reasonable depending on how much it would be, but that if it increased past $10 to $20 a unit, he would not be able to afford it.

He described California’s reputation as gradually eroding, making him less eager to pay a fee increase. Another nonresident student, Keung Kim, strongly agreed, and said that she felt that some of her classes have been a waste of money.

She said that it makes sense that the fees should be raised after the drop in cost scheduled for this fall, but that it should remain around $200 per unit. She said that she is already struggling as it is.

“There’s no escaping the fact that California’s in dire straights,” Ross said, “but why should education be the stop-gap?”

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