Santa Monica College's plan to offer some high-demand classes at a premium cost received a boost Thursday with the announcement of a $250,000 donation to support scholarships for students who qualify.
The donors are businessman Daniel Greenberg and his wife, attorney and civic activist Susan Steinhauser, two longtime supporters whose previous giving has centered on the Broad Stage of the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center.
The two-year college approved a plan last week, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, that would offer core education classes such as English and math at a cost of about $200 per unit, alongside state-funded courses. Beginning this summer, those classes will cost $46 per unit.
Officials said the plan would allow students to enroll in classes they need to transfer and obtain degrees, an effort that has been hampered in recent years because of state funding cuts. But some academic experts have questioned the legality of the dual program, and many students say it is unfair for those who can't afford to pay the higher costs.
It was just those concerns that spurred the couple to act after reading an account in The Times, Greenberg said Thursday.
"When I read about some of the concerns from students that it is inequitable, I thought offering scholarships really made sense," said Greenberg, 70, who lives in West Los Angeles. "Members of my extended family have been finishing college in five or six years instead of four, and I assume the same kind of thing is happening to kids at Santa Monica College who need a degree but can't get the class. If we can give them an opportunity to get into the labor pool even a year earlier, I consider it a blessing of monumental proportion."
Greenberg said that he also admired the risk being taken by Santa Monica College President Chui Tsang, whom he had come to know while serving as a trustee of the Broad Stage.
"He has not dealt with this by avoiding the issues but by confronting them and hopefully has found a really good way of tackling them," Greenberg said.
Tsang said he had previously broached the idea of a scholarship fund with the couple and was ecstatic when they made their choice.
"I'm really comforted by the reaction we have gotten," Tsang said. "This will go a long way to address the social equity issues for those students who have no other means to access classes and who are in a hurry to complete their education."
Greenberg is chairman and chief executive of Electro Rent Corp., a Van Nuys firm that rents and sells electronic test and measurement equipment. A Minneapolis native, he received a bachelor's degree from Reed College in Portland and a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School. He is a member of the Board of Trustees at Reed and previously served on the board of the NPR Foundation.
Susan Steinhauser is a UCLA graduate who received a law degree from Loyola Law School. She is a member of the California Arts Council and president of the Los Angeles Law Library Board of Trustees. Steinhauser also serves on the board of directors for Santa Fe University of Art and Design and on the board of overseers of the Hammer Museum.
Tsang said the college was still developing the scholarship fund, including criteria and the application process. In addition to the donation by Greenberg and Steinhauser, members of a campus community support group have donated $5,000 toward scholarships, he said.