Jennifer Rodriquez, a student from the Los Rios Community College District, struggles with her inability to pay for her college tuition and complete her associate’s degree on time.
“I relied a great deal on grants and scholarships provided by my school. But since some of it is being reduced because of the budget cuts, I need to take out a federal loan to cover it,” says Rodriquez. “I have tried unsuccessfully for a year to get the biology class I need to graduate. There are just not enough instructors to teach the course throughout the year.”
Rodriquez is one of countless students in a similar situation. If budget cuts continue to hit community colleges, it could dramatically affect the amount of student enrollment in the schools and delay many from graduating within the usual two years.
In the last three years, the budgets of California community colleges have been cut by $809 million, and they may undergo further cuts.
In general, districts have reduced the number of instructional days and have increased class sizes over the last five years. In some cases, required courses and general education courses are now only offered once a year. “Restricting education and cutting classes is not the kind of leadership any of us who serve in community colleges wants to undertake,” says Chancellor Harris, Los Rios Community College District Chancellor.
The Los Rios Community College District has reduced their faculty base by 152 full-time-equivalent positions in the past three years. The district has experienced a $77 million decline in funding since 2009. As a result, Los Rios colleges are rationing education to students who desperately need access to higher education.
“Having served in community colleges for more than four decades, this is by far the worst time I have seen. For those of us who believe in open access for all students, rationing classes is deplorable,” says Chancellor Harris. ”Students are being denied access, their futures are being delayed, and the state’s economy is suffering as a result.”
According to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center, Latino students are far more likely to be enrolled in community colleges than any other racial or ethnic group. Nearly 3 out of 4 Latino students in California who pursue higher education start at community colleges, according to the April 2012 Center for the Future of Higher Education Policy report. One of the main factors is the appeal of low-cost tuition.
“It’s no secret Latino students rely heavily on state-funded programs to attend and stay in school. It’s a stepping stone to the pathways of the future we want. I was very close to giving up, but I am planning on waiting it out because I still have hope for a brighter future,” says Rodriquez.
The fate of California community colleges’ future will greatly depend on the November 6, 2012 ballot.
Edgar Cabral, principal fiscal and policy analyst at Legislative Analyst’s Office, cautions that “school districts would be cut by $2.7 billion and would be allowed to reduce the school year by an additional 15 days” if Governor Jerry Brown’s tax measure is rejected in the November ballot. Community colleges will face substantial reductions and “would lose the $50 million in funding for enrollment growth,” he added, closing the doors for many future students. This will ultimately force colleges to significantly reduce the availability of courses even further, and cause more layoffs and additional borrowing.
In the meantime, faculty and staff members from all institutions will continue to work tirelessly to serve as many students as possible during this difficult time. Like many other districts, the Los Rios colleges hope to once again be accessible to everyone in pursuit of higher education, and recover from the decline of recent years.
“The best medicine for what ails our colleges is an improving economy. As the economy improves and the state is able to fund more classes, students will begin to get their education back on track,” says Chancellor Harris about the future for California community colleges. “The students struggling to get an education and the faculty and staff striving to provide that education are the real heroes in this crisis.”