Tuition reform must remember the ‘front line’
Pay to play may soon have a new arena – higher education.
In March, administrators at a public community college in Santa Monica, Calif., announced a two-tiered tuition system. Under the proposal, certain sections of popular courses required for graduation or job training would cost more. According to the New York Times, critics argued that it also could “exclude the poorest students and create a kind of upper and lower class of student.”
The proposal triggered sustained protest from students who objected to a system unfair to students with less ability to pay. For now, college officials have postponed implementation at the request of the chancellor of the state’s community college system.
It is just a matter of time until similar innovative and controversial funding schemes are considered for public colleges and universities nationwide, including Nevada.
Funding of higher education is the focus of several ongoing studies by Nevada’s regents, the elected governing body of the Nevada System of Higher Education. Reforming the funding formula and public higher education in Nevada is now a central focus, in light of crippling budget cuts and the need to improve graduation rates and outcomes.
The proposal being considered for Nevada would change the system’s priority from enrollment numbers to graduation rates. The plan rewards the portions of the university system in a hierarchical fashion, with funding emphasis on four-year and advanced degrees.
Certainly, improved and expedited graduation rates are a legitimate goal, but where does that leave Nevada’s entry-level community colleges? According to Michon Mackedon, retired Western Nevada College-Fallon professor and candidate for the Board of Regents from District 9 (which includes Carson City) one mission of the community college is to “deliver high quality education in the first two years in an equitable fashion.”
Community college is the front line of higher ed. At WNC and its outreaching siblings in Reno, Elko, Southern Nevada and rural Nevada, affordable, accessible opportunity for a better future exists for low-income students. The switch from rewarding enrollment to encouraging completion “opens opportunities and may require some adjustment to adequately support the essential role of community college as a gateway to higher education, especially for lower-income student,” says Mackedon.
The tuition trial balloon launched by the Santa Monica community college was a supply-and-demand response to the clash of increased need in an atmosphere of decreased state support. As Nevada’s regents move forward, they should recognize the necessity and benefits to Nevada and its economy of serving students of all financial means who are ready to access higher education.
• Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nevada. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.