It’s become something of a time-honored tradition in California’s community colleges: desperately trying to add a course on the first day of a jam-packed class because it filled up too quickly to register. But as the state’s community colleges kick off their fall semesters, some students can’t help but think the problem is worse than ever. And according to a news release from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, they’re right.
Over the last three years, community college funding has been cut by $809 million, and the impact of the cuts has been a historic 17 percent drop in enrollment over that same time. About 70 percent of colleges reported reduced enrollment in the fall of 2012 when compared to the fall of 2011, and the same percentage report offering fewer classes.
Even colleges that aren’t contributing to the 17 percent enrollment decline – like Long Beach City College with its 6 percent increase this fall – are feeling the effects of rapidly diminishing funding.
“We have a wait list count of approximately 15,000 students, which is a duplicated count since some students are on multiple wait lists,” Superintendent-President of LBCC Eloy Oakley said. “We are also offering 3.4 percent less sections than the fall of last year.”
The decline in offered classes is most visible in the first week, as students overflow the classrooms of courses they’re not registered in with the hopes of being added. “Faculty are frustrated with the throngs of students trying to add classes, especially in high demand areas like math and English,” Oakley said. “However, faculty are doing their best to cope with the stress.”
But coping with the stress isn’t easy when you’re one of the students. Harrison Herndon, a student at Glendale Community College, has spent years enduring the registration rat race. “If you go to class on the first day, someone will say ‘oh, I’m on the waiting list.’ And when they’re asked what number, they’ll say 18 or 19 and they’re told there’s not going to be room for them,” Herndon said. “Usually the teacher will say if you’re in the top five, you can stay and we might find a space for you. That happens to literally every class I’ve been in in the past two years.”
Herndon estimates that for this year’s high school graduates, it will take four years for them to get out of community college and transfer to a university.
And while students may try abandoning their local community college in the hopes of finding space at a different one, Herndon says they’ll have no such luck. “All the other schools are just as bad,” he said. “I’ve talked to teachers from Pasadena Community College. I asked, ‘hey, how it’s going over there, it’s taking me too long at Glendale because I can’t get my classes…should I come over there?’ And he says nope, it’s just as bad over here.”
Probably most frustrating of all is that come November, things for California’s community colleges may get even worse. If Governor Brown’s tax increase fails at the ballot box, the cuts will continue unabated. Oakley, who says colleges are already cutting $2 million dollars this fall no matter what happens with Proposition 30, believes these cuts could increase to $8.4 million by January if the Proposition fails.
“I think it’s such a travesty how they’ve run this thing into the ground,” Herndon said. “One thing I really hate about Glendale is they give away so much free crap. They have carnivals when school starts, they’ll throw these barbecues where they give free hot dogs and have bounce houses, and then at the same time they raise the price of a unit from 26 dollars to 46 dollars or something. When you look at that, it’s only 20 dollars, but when you compile all the units together it can amount to 200 dollars that someone can’t afford.”
At the same time, Glendale’s summer and winter sessions have been axed. “They cut winter completely, they’ve cut summer completely,” Herndon said. “And if they do offer classes, it’s hotel management or classes you would never need. I don’t know where all this money goes. How do they get money to buy snow cones? How do they get money to hire rappers at these barbecues?”
Herndon’s frustrations are indicative of larger issues at the state level. They serve as a stark reminder of the dire need to overhaul the state’s budgetary and legislative processes. The past 10 years have allowed programs to be created with no sources of funding earmarked and no performance metrics tracked to gauge if the program was even a success. Bills can be gutted, changed and passed all in the dead of night without public viewing. Creative accounting that would land most CPAs in jail if they used such methods for their clients have created a chasm that much of what community college are missing has fallen into, along with many other state services that no longer have funding due to the growing deficit.
Change must happen now, not later if community colleges are going to help bridge the skill gap and stay vital to our state’s economic recovery.