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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Underfunded

California Community Colleges suffer from state budget cuts

Students and faculty of California's community college system have become the newest victims of the state budget shortfall. With thousands of students starting the fall semester, many will be facing overcrowding, while others will be on waiting lists to add classes.

According to the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, the delay in the California budget has caused all state payments to the community colleges to be blocked, including a payment of $116 million for July, and of $277 million in August. The year's largest payment of $450 million, which is scheduled for September, is also in danger of being blocked. This would bring the total funding delays to $840 million.

The community college system in California is extremely important. According to the Office of the Secretary of Education of California, 60 percent of California State University (CSU) and 30 percent of University of California (UC) graduates are community college transfers. Additionally, 80 percent of law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, and firefighters are credentialed at community colleges.

Within the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, course sections have been reduced by six percent. This means that some 158 classes were cut. The number of wait list seats has risen to 15,200.

"The roster for my first class had room for 25 students," said 35-year-old Grossmont College student Gilbert Ardilla. "And about 35 students actually showed up. Six of us were wait listed, and the others were trying to crash the class. Anyone who was trying to crash was told that they wouldn't be allowed in the class." Ardilla, a new student at Grossmont, immediately noticed the overcrowding. "There weren't nearly enough seats for people. It was really crowded and nerve-wracking for the people who were wait listed, because a lot of us really needed the classes."

While districts such as Grossmont-Cuyamaca waited in the hope that the budget shortfall would be recolved in time for them to receive their payments, Southwestern College in Chula Vista took a more proactive approach. "We took a look at the state's budget crisis and decided to take strong measures early on," said spokesperson Chris Bender. "By accepting the position that the state was not going to fund us, we were able to keep from having to borrow any money from lenders. This way we haven't had to cut any of the staff or faculty."

In fact, even in the face of the budget shortfall, Southwestern College has added many new classes and certificate courses. "It was just smart planning on our part," said Bender.

With nearly 60 days having passed without a budget, community college districts in California remain hopeful that lawmakers in Sacramento will be able to make the scheduled September payment.

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