California faces demand for college, job training

In Educating Julio, California Competes looks at where the state’s community colleges should grow to meet student demand and promote equity.
The report looks at two students: Julio is interested in the building trades, but doesn’t know how he can find a training program. Pablo has been admitted to University of California at Merced, but is thinking about enrolling at Santa Monica College with hopes of transferring to UCLA.

Pablo and his middle-class parents will search for the best educational choices. The “squeaky wheel gets the seat.”

Julio “won’t even realize there is a welding program at his nearby college unless someone finds him and talks to him.” His unmet demand for job training will be invisible.

The current system favors the status quo, concludes California Competes. Under the state’s governance system, community college boards can’t approve new programs or change the curriculum without approval from the faculty senate. That lets incumbent instructors protect their turf. “Even if launching a welding program is the right move to attract and retain Julio as a student, it may not happen if key interest groups have other priorities in mind.”

Funding rewards colleges that play it safe. Opening a new campus in a high-need neighborhood or starting classes in new fields is risky. If the students don’t enroll, the college could miss targets. It’s safer to offer classes in “the subjects and locations where enrollment is most certain.”

Under Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget, California’s community colleges finally will be able to increase enrollment. Growth should be funded by regions rather than districts, the report argues.

Formal district boundaries have become increasingly obsolete. In the wake of Proposition 13, the colleges became primarily state-funded. While colleges used to impose barriers or costs on out-of-district students, colleges now enroll any California resident on equal terms.

Statewide, nearly a third of all students cross the invisible district lines to enroll at what may or may not be the nearest community college. At the extreme, nearly nine out of ten students at Santa Monica College live outside of the district.

Most California high school students are not eligible for state universities: Only 38 percent of graduates complete college-prep courses with a C or better. Factoring in students who don’t graduate on time, only 30 percent of students — 20 percent of Latinos and 18 percent of blacks — can enroll directly in a state university. 

Enrollment growth will slow

College enrollment growth is slowing, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report.  The center projects 15 percent growth between 2010 and 2021, down sharply from the 46 percent increase between 1996 and 2010. By 2021-22, there will be a 21 percent increased in both associate and bachelor’s degrees the report projects, a 34 percent rise in master’s and a 24 percent boost in PhDs.

Nearly half of colleges and universities expect enrollment declines, according to a survey by Moody’s Investors Service.  A third of the schools project a decline in tuition revenue.

“The cumulative effects of years of depressed family income and net worth, as well as uncertain job prospects for many recent graduates” mean students aren’t willing to pay high tuition at non-elite colleges, said Emily Schwarz, lead author of the report.

CC funding shrinks, for-profits grow

community college funding

With state funding often failing to keep up with enrollment growth, community colleges have struggled in the past decade, concludes a U.S. Treasury report, The Economics of Higher Education. Meanwhile, for-profit college enrollment has soared.

Community colleges depend on state funding, notes the Huffington Report. State funding has fallen behind enrollment gains, caught up, then lagged from 1999 to 2009, according to the report.

In 2009, community colleges received approximately $6,450 per FTE (full-time equivalent) student, only slightly higher than the $6,210 in 1999,

According to the report, the funding decline for public colleges and universities bottomed out in 2005, then slightly increased before dropping again in 2008.

Because of the budget squeeze, community colleges are pushed to either raise tuition or or to limit class size, and often choose the latter, leading to a correlating spike in for-profit college enrollment. According to the report, community colleges are “more likely to serve low-income and first-generation student populations than four-year schools, and these students now constitute the bulk of the student population at for-profit schools.”

Both community colleges and for-profit colleges primarily serve low-income and first-generation students, the report found. When public colleges put students on wait lists, the for-profits expand quickly to meet the demand. While completion rates are low for community college students, graduation rates are high for students in for-profit vocational programs of two years or less. And there are no wait lists.

No room in the class at many colleges

Community colleges are struggling to meet student demand, reports Inside Higher Ed.

In California, with the state budget still in limbo, colleges have been forced to cut class sections and put more students on wait lists. The Los Rios district near Sacramento has four colleges and 40,000 students on wait lists: For every two students enrolled, there’s another student waiting to get in.

In Las Vegas, the College of Southern Nevada is handling growing enrollment by hiring more part-timers and prioritizing high-demand classes. Still, 1,541 students tried and failed to register for biology 187, a key “gateway course” for many science majors; there’s space for 1,082 students.

Last year, the college began offering classes between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. This year, 20 different courses will meet at unusual times.

At Central New Mexico Community College, in Albuquerque, enrollment has grown by more than 25 percent in the past three years and students are taking more credit hours per semester.  There are wait lists in introductory English and math at “bottleneck times” of 10 am to 2 pm and 5 to 7 pm,  noted Phillip Bustos, the college’s vice president for student services.

To accommodate those who cannot get into a section of a course essential for graduation, transfer, or continuance to a higher-level course, Bustos said, the college is getting some faculty and students to work together for something akin to an “independent study” — meaning faculty do additional one-on-one work with a few students. Also, though the college has not done so yet, Bustos said, it may alter its traditional practice of keeping classes to less than 30 or so students before the beginning of spring registration.

Calhoun Community College in Alabama is letting more students “substitute equivalent courses within programs of study for one another if they are a course or two short of graduation or transfer.”