Class Rationing Coming to California? Some Say Yes

Class Rationing Coming to California? Some Say Yes
In light of the huge budget cuts facing California community colleges, class rationing is now on the table as one option to help schools stay in the black. Is it right, fair or even practical? We’ll explore the issue.

It’s no secret that California’s community college system is working under a squeaky tight budget this year, in light of the state’s decision to pull even more college funding from their budget. However, the question remains as to how to educate a record number of Californians with less money to go around? The solutions have not been easy and some have been downright unpalatable, including one choice on the table to ration classes for students most likely to succeed. Still, the idea has some merit with many inside the system, and it may be the precise direction California community colleges are forced to head into during the next academic year.

Forced to Turn Students Away

California community colleges are supposed to be an affordable way for state residents to get a higher education, whether they are recent high school graduates or professionals looking to make a career change. Currently, the system boasts around 2.6 million students from all demographics, coming to campuses to find the education and training they need to create a better life for themselves and their families. Community colleges have long been touted as a way to break the poverty cycle, allowing first-generation college students to find good jobs and income once their college education is completed.

However, the simple law of supply and demand has forced many schools across the state to make difficult decisions about who gets to pursue that education and who must wait in the wings. According to a report at Inside Higher Education, two-year colleges across the state had to turn away 140,000 students during the 2009-2010 school year. Early predictions suggest that this year will see more of the same when the state’s $400 million budget cuts threaten to freeze as many as 200,000 students out of their required courses.

At stake are the basic courses that students must take if they are to complete a degree program. According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, 137,000 students were unable to get into at least one class they needed last year, including first-year math and English courses. Even more, students were unable to apply for financial aid – not because money wasn’t available to them, but because there weren’t enough counselors on campus to help students complete financial aid applications. There is no doubt that California students are not getting the proper education or attention at community college today, which probably explains in part the 60-percent drop-out rate at schools statewide.

This video reports on career training programs offered by California community colleges.

The Rationing Solution

According to a brief report at KMJ Now, the solution to the problem may lie in rationing courses. The news station reports that the Community College Panel is now looking into a proposal that would require students to remain on a set education pathway in order to receive priority in scheduling. The students that fail to do so would lose their registration priority, paving the way for students who are more serious about completing their higher education program.

The proposal was initially made by a task force assigned to assess the problems with California’s community college system and develop a viable solution that would benefit the highest number of students and promote student success. The task force is also mindful of the completion agenda proposed by the White House, with an aim of graduating an additional five million college students by the year 2020. With a high percentage of those students attending college in California, the state may be an example for what must be accomplished across the country if those goals are to be met.

In the report finalized by the task force last month, community colleges were urged to begin rationing class access to the students most likely to see their higher education through to completion. These students should have higher registration priority, according to the group’s report, which would increase success rates for students at colleges across the state. The panel recommended a requirement for students to create an educational plan and stick with it - or risk losing their registration priority. This might include requiring students to declare a major by their third semester of school and select classes specifically with that major in mind.

“Policies that enable students to wander around the curriculum, withdraw and repeat classes multiple times, avoid services that could help them find a productive pathway and accumulate an unlimited number of units is a disservice to enrolled students and to those who can’t get into the system for lack of available classes,” the report states. Some officials in the community college system agree.

“The more directed a student is, the more likely they are to complete their goals,” Chancellor Jack Scott told the Chronicle. “This is pretty common sense.”

This video lists the top ten community colleges in California according to Joseph Parker.

Hitting a Nerve

Common sense or not, the idea of rationing classes has not sat well with many students, faculty, and community college administrators. Some have voiced concern that by giving preferential treatment to students most likely to earn a degree or transfer to a four-year institution, community colleges will lose some of their original purpose of serving the community at large.

“Students should be free to deviate from education plans and have the ability to change them as needed as they progress,” the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges wrote in response to the report. “Community colleges should continue to focus on general education and to offer the first two years of a four-year college experience. This includes providing broad opportunities for exploration, growth, and change.”

With the debate continuing, only time will tell how California will handle its higher education crisis. At this time, the recommendations in the task force report are under review, and there is no doubt that significant changes may be on the horizon for community college students and staff statewide.

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