Community colleges squeezed

ANOTHER VIEW

August 29, 2011 

Excerpted from Thursday's Santa Cruz Sentinel

Is it possible to put an even bigger hurt on community colleges and public universities in California? We may soon find out. Just two months ago, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature approved a 2011-2012 budget that did not include any tax hikes, but did depend on optimistic projections about future revenue. It hasn't taken long to realize that optimism was misplaced. State revenue for July came in $539 million below projections. When the budget was crafted in late June, the spending plan contained "triggers" that would be squeezed if revenue came in $1 billion less than projected — which seems likely considering the early returns. The impact for the CSU and UC has been much discussed. The impact to community colleges has not received as much attention.

Community colleges served 2.75 million students last year. If mid-year cuts go through, the system could well cut more courses and programs — and raise fees again. Though community college students have already seen fees go up from $26 to $36 this year over last, fees would spike to $46 a unit if the system takes another big hit.

One good move coming out of this funding spiral is that community colleges and CSU have been working together to improve the transfer degree system that smooths the way for more two-year students to CSU campuses. The chancellors of both systems say they can save about $160 million a year by making it easier for students to transfer after they've completed 60 units.

With only 20 percent of incoming community college students expected to complete at least a two-year degree within six years, the last thing California needs to be doing is making it even harder on young people who want and need an education.

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