The start of a new school year is typically an exciting time for college students, filled with new professors, new material and the promise of progressing further into the world of higher education. However, for California community college students, those first days have been filled with worry and frustration, as record numbers have found themselves squeezed out of much needed courses. Thanks to continued budget cuts throughout the state, more students are missing out on college classes that would help them advance their education and move into careers of their choice. With less money to go around, schools say they have no choice, and students are left feeling the financial pain.
Tighter Finances All Around
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that since 2008, the community college system throughout California has received $809 million less in state funding, which makes up around 12 percent of the system’s total funding. When lost funding is combined with the rising costs of running an institution of higher education, the financial deficits become even more pronounced. For example, Diablo Valley College, located in Pleasant Hill, California, has cut around $14 million from its budget since 2009, to compensate for a loss of $5.2 million in state funding and rising operational costs.
The Press-Enterprise states that community colleges throughout the state are functioning on at least 12 percent less money than they had during the 2008-2009 academic year. To make up the difference, the entire system has resorted to “workload reductions.” The idea is to preserve services for students that are still enrolled in the community colleges across the state. However, to ensure those services continue to exist, sacrifices have been made in the area of course offerings. In others words, fewer classes are available to fewer students, resulting in some looking to a community college education left without a class to attend.
This Associated Press video describes the state budget problems.
Enrollment, Class Options Both on Decline
According to the Los Angeles Times, enrollment at California community colleges has declined by around 485,000 students over the past three years, due to the current financial crisis the colleges are facing. That calculates to a 17-percent drop in enrollment, from 2.9 million students during the 2008-2009 year, to 2.4 million students currently. Jack Scott, chancellor of the California community college system told the L.A. Times that the number of lost students represents more than the entire population at California State University.
By the same token, community colleges have been cutting class offerings during that same time frame – primarily because there was no money in the budget to fund them. Courses have been slashed by around 24 percent at community college campuses across the state since the 2008-2009 school year. According to the VC Star, that amounts to around 123,000 classes that have ended up on the chopping block.
“We’ve had to cut back on course selections rather dramatically because we just didn’t have the funds to offer them,” Scott told the VC Star. “It’s clear that the cuts have really hurt us…Unfortunately, we’re turning away a lot of students.”
In this video, Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez discusses the role of community colleges.
How Students are Handling Cuts
The California community college system is now facing wait lists for courses that contain around 470,000 students who could not get the classes they need to proceed with their degree programs. The Fresno Bee reports that the problems are further complicated by an influx of veterans returning home and wanting to use their benefits to pursue a college education. Students in the California State University system are also looking to fulfill some of their course requirements at state community colleges if the courses are full at the university level.
The result is long lists of students heading to classes they have been shut out of, in hopes of nabbing the handful of slots that could open up if current students decide to drop the course. A few lucky ones get in, while many more line the back of classrooms and hallways, waiting to see if any additional slots will open. Some students will be forced to remain on wait lists indefinitely, if they cannot beg the professors to cram one more student into an already overflowing classroom.
Community colleges are tuned into the needs of these students and are increasingly concerned that wait lists will keep some students from completing their degree programs. Most schools are trying to accommodate as many students as possible, with some classes nearly doubling in size. Schools are also dipping into their reserves in order to fund more students than their state funding allows. Even with these efforts, schools that are required to accept all students have had to actually turn students away because there is simply no more room for them.
This ideo reports on the state budget problems.
Next Round: November Elections
Even while schools are still reeling from the initial enrollment pinch for the current academic year, many college officials and students are facing the November elections with trepidation. A tax measure on the November ballot, known as Proposition 30, would provide more than $200 million to community colleges if approved. The additional funding could be used to provide additional courses as early as the spring semester of the current academic year.
However, if Proposition 30 is voted down, community college officials estimate that would amount to around a $338 million loss for the school system. That could result in elimination of as many as 40 percent of all courses at community colleges throughout the state. The effects of those cuts could be far-reaching indeed.
“We’re going to discover we don’t have the educated workforce that we need,” Scott warned in the Fresno Bee.
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