CC cuts push students to costly for-profit schools

Cierra Nelson spent four years trying to complete prerequisites for a nursing program at a community college in southern California. Again and again, she was turned away from science classes she needed, such as anatomy and physiology. Finally, she gave up on the low-cost community college and borrowed more than $50,000 to attend a for-profit, Everest College, writes Chris Kirkham in the Huffington Post.

“When I first saw how high it was, it was kind of a shock,” said Nelson, who eventually came to the conclusion that taking out loans made more sense than waiting semester after semester to take the community college classes she needed to advance. “I know it’s a lot of money and I’ll be in debt, but I’ve got to do what I need to do.”

More than 90 percent of nursing graduates at nearby community colleges last year passed state licensing exams, compared to fewer than 70 percent of Everest students. But Everest students are able to graduate without spending years on wait lists.

For-profit colleges enroll more low-income, minority and adult minority students than other institutions. Graduation rates are higher for career programs that take two years or less, much lower for bachelor’s programs. Default rates on student loans are significantly higher.

While for-profit schools can raise money to expand quickly in high-demand fields, community colleges have cut classes to cope with funding cuts, Kirkham writes.

California has been hit especially hard. Some  200,000 community college students will be turned away from classes next school year, the chancellor’s office predicts.

That amounts to more than 7 percent of the entire state’s community college student body, and that does not count those who gave up on plans to enroll due to the difficulties of securing classes.

After accounting for inflation, California is now spending the same amount on community colleges that it did six years ago, despite adding more than 175,000 students in that period, a nearly 20 percent increase. On a per-student basis, the state is spending less this year than it was 15 years ago.

Riverside Community College in southern California has room for 200 students; some 1,500 applicants are on a wait list. And many more, like Nelson, aren’t able to get into the required classes that will qualify them for the wait list.

In just the past year, California’s community colleges have cut between 5 and 15 percent of their course offerings, according to the state community college chancellor’s office. Among the hardest hit were costly, yet crucial workforce training programs such as computer information systems, nursing and other health care-related majors, such as radiologic technology.

No wonder students are choose for-profit career colleges, despite the much higher costs.

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