Nearly 5,000 students on waiting lists due to 50% cutback in classes;
veterans on G.I. bill and students on financial aid risk losing funds
East County News Service
June 21, 2010 (El Cajon) – Higher education funding cuts due to the California state budget crisis have forced Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District to severely reduce summer course sections, despite growing demands for classes from students seeking to retrain for new careers and complete general education requirements to transfer to four-year universities and colleges.
Despite efforts to keep budget cuts from harming students, the colleges have been forced to slash summer offerings by 50%.
Looking ahead, additional course sections will have to be cut from both the fall 2010 and spring 2011 semesters, according to a press release issued by the District. Course offerings and scheduling options that remain will be much more limited.
In a report to the Governing Board at its June meeting, Grossmont College President Sunita “Sunny” Cooke and Cuyamaca College Vice President of Administrative Services Arleen Satele told trustees the focus is now on the core priorities of the community college mission: transfer and degree courses, workforce education, and basic skills. The colleges can no longer offer personal enrichment courses.
Both colleges have reduced the frequency of electives, are offering fewer sections of required courses, and cut almost all noncredit courses with the exception of English as a Second Language and workforce training courses. Where possible, noncredit courses have been converted to fee-based and contract education courses.
As a result, the number of students who can be served is drastically limited. Over 4,900 students were placed on waiting lists this summer, just as the California State Universities and University of California system have reduced their enrollments and increased tuition, causing greater numbers of students to choose community colleges.
Dr. Cooke said the colleges find themselves at a point where options are the best of bad choices. She said future cuts will require the District to consider cuts in general education, the frequency of required course offerings within degree and certificate programs, and even discontinuing certain certificate and degree programs entirely.
“We sincerely hope this is not the ‘new normal,’” said Dr. Cooke. “These state-imposed caps on funding at a level far below the community’s need for services force us to make choices that keep our colleges from serving everyone who needs us. Our choices attempt to keep the door open for students to move toward their educational and career goals, although we know they will do so more slowly than before. We don’t walk away feeling good about this,” she added.
Satele said students find it increasingly hard to finish degree programs or meet transfer program requirements in a reasonable time. Many students are working full time and raising families, and struggle to get the more limited remaining courses into their schedules. More students are competing for fewer slots within fewer sections. As a result, many students must wait to take a required course.
Among the unintended consequences to students is the threat of losing financial aid. Students that must maintain full-time status to receive financial aid such as veterans attending college under the new G.I. Bill and Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) students are in danger of being unable to do so and risk having all funding cut. In addition, some programs such as the G.I. Bill require students to finish their program of study within a limited period of time. Veterans who cannot access courses quickly enough risk their funding running out before they can meet their degree or transfer requirements.
Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District Governing Board President Bill Garrett said state legislators making budget decisions need to know about the real consequences of budget cuts to the community colleges. He urged those concerned to be active and let state legislators know how budget cuts to higher education affect student educational plans and future goals.
"These cuts impact real people who are trying to better their lives through education. To help alleviate the burden caused by these cuts, it important to pass the California Jobs Budget because it provides additional resources for higher education," Assemblymember Marty Block, chair of the Asssembly Higher Education Committee, told East County Magazine. With tough fiscal constraints and the pressures already placed on our colleges and universities, it is critical that we keep community colleges open, accessible and affordable to our Veterans and all students. These institutions serve a crucial role in developing a strong economy and training the individuals who will become part of our future workforce."
In Sacramento, Democratic leaders in both the Assembly and state Senate have called for revenue increases such as a wellhead tax on oil to help balance the budget and create more funds for education. (California is currently the only state that does not have a wellhead oil tax.) Republican leaders however have adamently opposed any new taxes or revenue sources. Although the GOP is the minority party, it takes a two-thirds majority to pass a budget or approve revenue increases in California, creating an impasse.
An initiative on the November ballot would reduce to a simple majority the votes needed to pass a budget. But even if approved by voters, the change will not come in time to help students immediately impacted by summer cuts locally.
If you wish to contact your State Assembly and State Senate representatives to voice your views on education funding or other issues, you may use the contact links in the "Sound Off" section of our Citizens Action Center at this link: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/0809soundoff.