I drove past my local community college day and as I sat at a red light, I thought about the two-tier proposal on the table at Santa Monica Community College (SMC) (Santa Monica College to offer two-tier course pricing). It’s such a loaded and multidimensional plan, that on the one hand solves a problem – it creates more class availability for students – but at the same time, I can’t ignore the nagging feeling that it also builds another barrier for so many students. At $200 a unit, the additional courses planned are more than 15 times the price of regular classes through SMC – how is that equitable? Though students can apply financial aid towards the classes, in a state where financial aid to public institutions is bleak compared to packages many get at private institutions, that’s hardly comforting. (SMC is aware of the pitfalls and plans to address them through additional fundraising to augment the cost.)
The challenge between public and private starts in preschool. Do you enroll your child in LAUP or Head Start or do you opt for pricier private schools? In preschool, though financial aid exists, believe me, from my own research planning for my daughter, you can’t go private in many areas unless you have money. It’s our fundamental belief every child should have access to a high quality public K-12 education. We know this isn’t always the case though. To make is happen, it’s not only about district funding, good leaders and good teachers, but it’s also about strong parent involvement that builds human capital powerful enough to have large-scale impacts. And even with all these factors, fatigue and frustration can sometimes make even the most pro-public school parents turn private. I wouldn’t be surprised if students at our state’s public schools are also overcome by these feelings.
It’s when we get to college that it gets a little more confusing. Like a quality K-12 education should be compulsory, the same goes for those who attend public community and four-year colleges. But, the reality in California is harsh – while many of our public institutions of higher education do have strong programs, resources are being cut at such a quick and steady rate, it seems almost absurd. This has made many who always imagined going to a UC, instead consider and eventually attend private colleges and universities where access to opportunities far out-weigh a California public school (i.e. students are guaranteed to get classes they need when they need them, funding for research, internships and study abroad) and increasingly for low and middle class families, where financial aid packages actually make private more affordable than public.