Open access? Not any more

Open access is an empty promise at community colleges these days, reports the New York Times. With less funding and more students, colleges can’t offer enough courses to meet the demand.

In three terms at Mt. San Antonio College east of Los Angeles, Ashley Diaz has been able to get into only one academic class and one dance class, which she has taken three times.  “It’s like working my way through quicksand, says, who hopes to transfer to a four-year university.

Crystal Boddie, a 28-year-old child care worker, needs one more course to earn certification as a preschool teacher, which would raise her pay by $6 an hour. But the class wasn’t offered spring semester. The college cut more than 10 percent of its classes even as registrations grew by 10 percent.

“We want to create the illusion that we’re still open access,” said Silver Calzada, chairman of counseling at the college. “But the truth is that with all the classes that have been cut, unless you get a registration slot on the first or second day, you’re not going to get into the classes you need. Students see our banners saying ‘Dream It. Be It.’ And they feel like they’ve been duped.”

Some California community college districts turned away half of the new students who tried to enroll for the 2009-10 academic year.  State legislators may raise fees from $26 a unit — the cheapest in the nation — to $40 per unit to fund enrollment growth.

Nationwide, remedial English and math classes fill up quickly. With so many students eager to qualify for recession-proof health careers, anatomy and physiology classes fill “instantly,” reports the Times.  Those who meet the prerequisites face more waiting lists.

Mount SAC, for example, has 986 students on the waiting list for its nursing program, which was cut by a third because of reduced financing. The radiologic technology program, which accepts 38 students a year, has a waiting list of 300.

Giovanni Davalos, an aspiring X-ray technician, said he had expected to spend three years on the waiting list. But his first hurdle was getting into the remedial classes he needed.

This spring, Mr. Davalos took a counseling department class, College Success Strategies. He said he did not necessarily want to take it, but students in that class, which teaches how to plot a sequence of courses leading to a degree, are guaranteed a seat in a remedial English class.

“All together,” he said, “it might take me seven years.”

No one knows how many would-be students give up on taking college classes, but it’s clear why the much pricier for-profit sector is booming.