California Community College Cuts Jeopardize Degree Plans

The shortage of available community college classes in California have made it harder for students to plan out and complete their education, the Los Angeles Times reports. Instead of being able to register for a full load of 12 credits per semester, thousands of students are stuck taking only three credits — if that — [...]

The shortage of available community college classes in California have made it harder for students to plan out and complete their education, the Los Angeles Times reports. Instead of being able to register for a full load of 12 credits per semester, thousands of students are stuck taking only three credits — if that — as they hope seats open up in courses like introductory mathematics, science and English as they hang onto endless waiting lists.

There seem to be two main causes for the problem: budget cuts that have forced community colleges to eliminate programs and staff, and a sudden uptick in demand. While similar factors are also battering the entirety of the California university system, the situation in community colleges has become a problem quickly.

Several campuses in the community college system that serves nearly 2.4 million students have been hit particularly hard. At Pasadena City College, which is experiencing a difficult confluence of demand and shrinking funding, 63% of students are unable to enroll in enough classes to qualify for full-time status. Of those, nearly 4,000 have been able to register for only one course. In order to continue operating, PCC has cut its number of classes by 10% over the past several years.

Since 2007, money from the state’s general fund, which provides the bulk of the system’s revenue, has decreased by more than a third, dropping from a peak of nearly $3.9 billion to about $2.6 billion last year.
Without enough money, course offerings have dropped by almost a quarter since 2008. In a survey, 78 of the system’s 112 colleges reported more than 472,300 students were on waiting lists for classes this fall semester — an average of about 7,150 per campus.

Mark Rocha, PCC’s president, says that staff are working hard to help discouraged students stick it out, but sometimes the message sounds a little hollow. He added that in his entire time working in the California community colleges, he’d never witnessed a more difficult situation to resolve.

California ranks 36th in the nation in the number of students who finish with a degree or who transfer to a four-year university, according to a February report by the Little Hoover Commission. Many students drop out before completing even half of what is required to earn a typical associate’s degree, the report found.

For many students, their goal of eventually transferring to a four-year college might seem like an unrealistic dream now. For Cinthia Garcia, who enrolled in El Camino College in Torrance right after high school with a goal to graduate and continue her education elsewhere, has been dealing with the difficulties of getting the courses required to graduate for the past 6 years. After the situation became untenable, she thought she’d try her luck at PCC and moved to Los Angeles — but the advanced classes required for her graphics arts degree were perpetually full, too.

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