Friday, April 15, 2011

Community Colleges: $800 Million in Cuts, 400,000 Students Turned Away

There has been much talk of the devastating cuts to California’s two university systems, the University of California (UC) and the Cal State University (CSU), with each facing $500 million cuts. There have been ongoing large scale student demonstrations at both systems, including protests and building occupations this week at all 23 CSU campuses (see here, here and here). Because of the budget cuts and the resulting loss of course offerings, skyrocketing tuition and declines in admissions, many students have been opting for California’s inexpensive community colleges. However, they have also been hit with a $400 million budget cut, and could see an additional $400 million slashed from their budget if a tax extension don’t go through. The SF Chronicle reports that 400,000 students could be turned away from California’s community colleges next year as a result.

The Chron said that the 400,000 students denied access to the community colleges roughly equals the entire existing enrollment in the CSU system. California’s community college system is the largest in the U.S. with 2.75 million students, down from 2.89 million students two years ago as a result of prior budget cuts. It is also the largest workforce training system in the state, serving not only recent high school graduates, but older adults who have been downsized or who simply want training for a career change. It has traditionally been accessible and affordable to almost every student interested in a higher education.

The current economic crisis has been hardest on those without college degrees. These are the same people who rely most on the community college system to get the training to either go on to a four-year university or to gain the skills for a better career. They are also the ones who will be most impacted by the gutting of the community college system.

As a teacher in a low income school and as a teacher of biotechnology, which is part of the Career and Technical Education program, I see a majority of my college-bound students heading straight for the community colleges in the area. Some go directly into the system’s biotech or medical training programs which can get them entry level wages of $40,000 per year or more at a biotech company. However, for the past several years I have been hearing horror stories from them about being unable to get into the classes they need to obtain their degrees, forcing many to take four or five years to complete a two-year community college degree.

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