1,700 students per counselor

Overwhelmed with students and short of funding, California’s community colleges plan to give enrollment priority to students who commit to an academic plan in their first year of college and make progress toward their goals. But a state law is making it hard to hire enough counselors, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Lines at San Diego Miramar College‘s academic counseling center are often 25 students long, with wait times stretching to two hours or more. On busy days, the center begins turning students away at 3 p.m., three hours before closing time.

The counseling crush at Miramar has gotten worse because of California’s deep budget cuts, which have led to a hiring freeze and reduced hours at the center.

. . . getting more than 10 minutes of one-on-one time with an academic adviser is almost impossible at Miramar. The college is part of the San Diego Community College District, which has 1,700 students per counselor, according to district officials. Other California community colleges are similarly overwhelmed. Pasadena City College has one counselor for every 1,647 students, said Cynthia D. Olivo, associate dean for counseling and student success services at the college. Pasadena had to turn away 2,500 students who sought counseling over a recent six-month period.

California’s “50 percent law” requires community colleges to spend half of their educational budgets on instructor compensation.

When budgets are tight, which is certainly the case now, it’s nearly impossible to add counselors without adding faculty members to keep that 50/50 spending split intact, according to some community college leaders and higher education experts.

Attempts to change the law have failed in the face of faculty opposition.

Some colleges are turning to online advising tools that are available around the clock. But that may not be enough for students who can’t turn to college-educated parents for help in navigating a course catalog or deciding on a major.