A report from the Public Policy Institute of California outlines the effects of $1.5 billion in budget cuts between fiscal years 2007-08 and 2011-12, a decline of 24%. Course offerings are down 21%, summer offerings are off 60%, staff has been cut, classes are larger and total enrollment is 600,000 less than what would have been expected if 2008-09 enrollment rates had been sustained. More than 470,000 students began the 2012 fall semester on a waiting list for at least one class.
Enrollment rates are at a 20-year low. The biggest drops are among those who are returning to school after an absence, and first-time students. By law, community colleges can’t turn away eligible students, and in California that includes most who apply. But the 112 colleges can make attendance onerous in any number of ways, and have—shifting the emphasis among their multiple missions of offering associate degrees, pathways to four-year colleges, adult enrichment, vocational training and development of basic skills.
Passage of Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30 last November should provide the colleges with a fresh infusion of funds in 2012-13, but it won’t be nearly enough to undo the damage already done to the system.
Student fees have doubled over the past decade, but haven’t come close to covering the gap left by the Legislature’s budget cuts. Seventy-seven percent of more than 100 college officials surveyed by the Public Policy Institute said the funding cuts had a strong impact on students.
While the report pointed to an upturn in the economy and a corresponding willingness by the governor and Legislature to restore some of the community college funding as boding well for the future, it underscored the lack of knowledge about the system’s problems. Top administrators surveyed believed that only 44% of elected public officials and only 25% of civic leaders “were will aware of the financial problems in community colleges.”