The math is simple.
Too few classes + too many students = wait lists.
And Modesto Junior College students are learning that wait lists mean it takes longer to earn a degree or certificate.
Dozens of students planning to transfer to four-year colleges this fall will have to wait to get into overcrowded, transfer-necessary math classes.
MJC administrators couldn't confirm how many students were being left in the lurch but said students could be missing the necessary units in math for several reasons: They needed to take many remedial math classes; they waited too long before they started taking math classes; or they had to take classes multiple times to earn a high enough grade.
Wait lists also can be found at four-year universities.
One of the toughest problems for MJC students is their lack of math skills. About 75 percent of MJC's 20,000 students test at below college-level math when they start, said Judith Lanning, interim dean of science, math and engineering.
MJC offered 79 math classes in the spring semester, from pre- algebra to calculus. Depending on the course, wait lists ranged from 25 to 40 students, Lanning said.
Remedial classes eat up years
MJC officials suggest taking math classes as early as possible. Depending on how low students test in math, they may have to take four or five courses before taking a college-level class. At one class a semester, that's already the two years it usually takes to transfer to a four-year university.
"Get started on math when you get here right away," said Derek Waring, dean of counseling and student services.
Lanning also encouraged taking advantage of MJC's StartSmart program, which combines orientation, advising and registration and gives participants a chance to sign up for classes earlier than other students. StartSmart for fall semester runs July 8 through July 24.
An issue that doesn't show any sign of change in the near future is MJC's inability to recruit math instructors. The valley's applicant pool is less educated and there are fewer math professionals living here, Lanning said. MJC also heavily relies on adjunct, or part-time, instructors who often hold a second job.
Administrators hope to partially solve the problem by using a state grant to pay a full-time math instructor for one year.
Though Gov. Schwarzenegger has set aside that money to increase English and math remediation classes at community colleges, his January budget proposal calls for $1 billion in higher education cuts -- $484 million from community colleges. Schwarzenegger will release a May revision for the state's 2008-09 budget negotiations, which some expect will be kinder to education.
State budget cuts mean less money for instruction. A souring economy means more students taking college classes to polish their résumés, combining for a frustrating gridlock.
For more information on StartSmart, call 575-6080 or go to www.mjc.edu.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.