Chancellor Asks California Community College to Hold Off on 2-Tier Tuition Plan

Los Angeles – The chancellor of the California community college system has requested that Santa Monica College hold off on its plan to begin offering popular courses for a higher price this summer, saying that the legality of the program is still in question.

The request, made on Wednesday, came a day after a campus police officer sprayed more than two dozen people with pepper spray as students tried to enter a trustees meeting; several suffered minor injuries. Many students and advocates have criticized the tuition plan, saying it violates the long tradition of community colleges as havens for those who cannot afford four-year colleges.

The chancellor, Jack Scott, had already made it clear that he was wary of the community college’s plan, saying it could violate state education codes. He has asked the state’s attorney general for an opinion, which he expects to receive in the next week.

“The question, of course, is that the price may well rule out low-income students, and does that go against our philosophy of being open to all? That is the heart of the issue,” Dr. Scott said in an interview. “I understand the problem they have, and I am the first to say we need more funding from the state, but this really opens the gates in an unusual way to something I am not sure we want to have.”

“We do not have the authority to tell them cease and desist, but I said I think it would be wise to wait until we have a determination from the attorney general,” Dr. Scott said. A bill that would have explicitly permitted the tuition structure died in the State Legislature last year.

Bruce Smith, a spokesman for the college, said that its president, Chui L. Tsang, told Dr. Scott that he would consider the request, but that any decision would have to be approved by the board of trustees.

Last month, the board approved a plan that would offer about 50 high-demand courses at $180 per credit hour, rather than the regular $36. Administrators have said that the higher tuition would just cover the costs for each course. Registration is scheduled to begin next month.

For years, the college has faced increased demand and overcrowded classes as the state has cut financing. Students routinely complain about not being able to register for classes that they need for job training and for transferring to four-year colleges — a problem that plagues community colleges across the country.

Dr. Tsang has said that he believes that the plan is legal and is the only way to try to meet the demand.

The student protest on Tuesday erupted when board members said they would go ahead with the plan despite the controversy. For now, the college plans to offer the higher-priced courses only in the summer and winter sessions.