This school year, California community colleges have bucked a five-year trend of rising enrollment.
Community colleges face a 1 percent decline in enrollment, or a 21,000-person drop in the number of students, said California Community College Chancellor Jack Scott at a news conference Wednesday.
"Our enrollment is not dropping due to lack of demand," Scott said. "As demonstrated by last year's record high enrollment of nearly 3 million students, our colleges are more popular than ever."
The cause of the decrease is budget cuts.
This school year, the community college system suffered $520 million in cuts -- a 7.9 percent blow to its 2009-2010 budget.
Community colleges have dealt with decreased funding by cutting the number of sections colleges offer.
Locally, Merced College cut 200 sections across the board during the 2009-2010 school year, said Merced College president Ben Duran.
The number of students Merced College served last school year was 10,400. This year, there are about 10,100 students attending school.
"That's due to budget reductions," Duran added.
The result of all the cuts to classes is that students aren't taking full course loads. They're taking half-loads, Duran added.
So not only are students being turned away from classes, some students have to put their college transfer plans on hold until they take the required classes they need.
"Unfortunately, we will never be able to accurately account for all of the students who had to either put their college dreams on hold or abandon them altogether because they couldn't get the classes or training they needed," Scott said.
Statewide, the number of course sections slashed was 5 percent, Scott added.
That number is expected to grow next year if funding levels stay the same or are cut.
The unfortunate coincidence is that community colleges should be enjoying a perfect storm for increased enrollment.
Last year's statewide high school senior class was the largest in history, Duran said.
"All of a sudden the largest population is at our door, and we've had to cut sections," Duran said.
Add this number to the amount of unemployed workers seeking retraining in community college career technical courses, and there's high demand.
But classic economic theory of supply and demand doesn't seem to be working this year at California's community colleges.
Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209)385-4207 or firstname.lastname@example.org.