California CCs: 470,000 wait for classes

California’s community colleges are offering fewer classes and enrolling fewer students, according to a survey of the state’s two-year public colleges. “More than 470,000 community college students are beginning the fall semester on waiting lists, unable to get into the courses they need,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

The system has been hit by $809 million in state funding cuts since 2008 and could lose another $338-million in the middle of the academic year, if voters reject a tax hike on the November ballot. The measure, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, is ahead in the polls, but not by much, said Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin. “Its prospects are partly cloudy with a chance of rain.”

College leaders are planning for the worst, reports the Times. Some are negotiating union contracts that allow pay cuts and furloughs if funding is cut further. Others warn they’ll cut more classes and lay off ful-time faculty if the tax measure fails.

“There is no question that the system is shrinking in terms of the number of students we’re serving but not shrinking in terms of demand,” Chancellor Jack Scott said in an interview Tuesday. “The real problem is we don’t have the financial resources to offer the courses that we could fill. In the long run, it’s going to be hurtful to the economy. These are the individuals who are going to make up the future workforce of California.”

Under the Student Success Act, which Gov. Brown is expected to sign, community colleges will give enrollment priority to students who develop an academic plan and show progress toward reaching their goals. “Requiring education plans and orientation” will help students earn the credits they need, but no more, freeing up spaces for others, says Michelle Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.

However, students will have trouble developing education plans if they can’t talk to advisors.  Seventy percent of colleges surveyed have reduced hours for support services, such as advising and tutoring, and 87 percent have cut support staff.

California’s community colleges have been struggling for several years, the Times notes.

Overall enrollment dropped about 17%, from about 2.9 million in the 2008-09 academic year to 2.4 million in 2011-12, and officials have estimated a further decline this year. The number of class sections decreased 24% from 522,727 in 2008-09 to 399,540 in 2011-12.

The colleges say they are being forced to cut into vital services that for many students can mean the difference between success and failure. Nearly 67% of colleges reported that students have had to wait longer for financial aid, counseling and other appointments since 2009-10, with an average wait time of 12 days. West Los Angeles College reported that it had eliminated tutoring and field trips to four-year universities and stopped publishing a student handbook.

El Camino College in Torrance is offering about 1,922 class sections this fall, down from 2,027 last year. Nearly every class has a waiting list, said spokeswoman Ann Garten.

“We have all of these students who want to take courses — high school graduates, then a whole group who had planned to go to the University of California or Cal State but can’t afford to, and with the economy, all of these people coming back to college because they need skills,” Garten said. But, she said, “we’re all being forced by the state to offer fewer courses for students.”

At East Los Angeles College, Rogelio Cervantes Jr., 20, saw more than 40 students lined up trying to add a math class that was already full. Unable to get the schedule he wanted, he takes classes from 8:20 a.m. to 10 p.m. “He plans to remain on campus and nap in his car so he doesn’t lose his parking space.”

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