Starting this spring, Colorado Mountain College could charge for English as a Second Language classes.
CMC's College Council, which includes deans and administrators from all of CMC's campuses, voted at their May meeting to begin charging for ESL courses starting next spring, said Debbie Crawford, director of public information for CMC.
CMC's Board of Trustees still could review that decision, which means there could be changes.
Exactly how much would be charged for an ESL course is undetermined, but one value that has been considered is $25 for an equivalent of a three-credit hour course for 15 weeks, Crawford said. The ESL courses, however, are noncredit.
The concept of charging for ESL classes has been discussed for more than three years, Crawford said. The decision-making process has been extremely involved, and is far from over. At this point, a committee is studying how to provide financial assistance to students who need it.
Currently, the classes are free, funded through the college's general funds as well as some grant funding for adult basic education, Crawford said.
Jennifer le Roux, ESL faculty member at CMC's Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs, said she did not know specifics of what has been decided, but she knew that discussions had been going on for several years. Estimates of what could be charged are still very preliminary, she said.
Whatever that charge ends up being, efforts will be taken to make sure students don't stop attending the courses because of the cost.
"I do know that the college would make sure that classes are accessible to students," she said.
Le Roux said free classes are more accessible to students. But she also said a small charge for the classes might create more buy-in from students.
Whatever decision ultimately is made, le Roux said the Alpine Campus would accept it with a positive attitude.
The Alpine Campus' ESL program has served about 150 students a year for the past three or four years, le Roux said. Those students speak 11 languages.
The program, she said, is vital for the community.
"A lot of people who come in are wanting to learn English so they can benefit the community," le Roux said. Learning English allows them to excel in work and get more involved in the community, for example.
People who take the classes are very motivated to learn, she said, and work hard at their jobs during the day then attend classes at night.
The fees must be reasonable, Crawford said, as outlined by a grant the college receives for part of the program's cost. Students cannot be denied access because they can't pay for a class, she said.
The $25 cost for a three-credit class that has been discussed is reasonable, especially compared with the cost of other classes. Most courses cost $43 per credit hour for in-state students.
In 2002, CMC officials asked the Latino Advisory Council for its opinion on charging for ESL classes, and the Council said it supported a moderate charge, Crawford said.
In 2003, CMC officials surveyed ESL students, and 62 percent said they would continue taking the classes if there was a reasonable charge.
How to provide assistance to students who could not afford a charge is the focus of discussions, she said.
Crawford said she could not say how long it would take to determine specifics on financial assistance. She also could not give information on why CMC has decided to charge for the classes. CMC President Robert Spuhler was not available for comment late last week.