There were two choices: attend a four-year college straight out of high school or spend my first two years at a local community college. I leaned towards the cheaper investment, but as pressure rose from my parents, I went with the university option. Because of this I probably saved myself time and frustration. For anyone who finds it difficult to be accommodated in their preferred classes here at the University of California, Riverside, just be glad that our classes are not as impacted as they are in the community college system.
Over the last five years the state budget has slowly put tighter constraints on higher education. The poor condition of the economy has led the state to take cuts at every side, and the most substantial savings are coming out of the education system’s pockets, specifically from community colleges. My mother used to tell me of the days when classes at El Camino, a popular campus in North Torrance, were dirt cheap, and transferring from there was no issue.
Now, there seem to be problems boiling at every edge of the sinking system. The state’s general fund has decreased by more than a third, which is problematic when realizing that the fund provides the bulk of the systems’ revenue—resulting in a jaw-dropping $1.3 billion cut last year. The slash makes it harder for students to enroll, which results in students taking longer to transfer or earn a vocational degree. Jack Scott, chancellor of California’s community college system, said that “state funding has dropped by 12 percent over the last three years.” If this trend continues, community colleges will become more selective, serving the opposite purpose that was originally intended—to provide education for lower income students.
The Los Angeles Times commented on the reductions by verifying that the system is up against a state funding cut of up to 10 percent, and this will then result in 400,000 fewer students next fall—not to mention another decrease in available classes. With 2.6 million students enrolled in community college, California continues to encompass the largest higher educational system in the country. Could this then be detrimental to our state?
The purpose of the restrictions is to provide some breathing room within the state and federal budgets. But without a place for students to receive an education, unemployment also faces an increase. More and more people will settle for lower paying positions and end up contributing to a lower socioeconomic status, increasing poverty within the state.
In a study released by the California Community Colleges Student Success Task Force this year, only 54 percent ever achieve a degree, a certificate or transfer preparation. Now, according to reports by the LA times, around 80 percent of firefighters and law enforcement officers and 70 percent of nurses jump start their careers in community college. By some estimates, California will need 2.3 million more community college degree and certificate holders by 2025 to meet the demands of employers. The California Master Plan for Higher Education does not seem to be doing its job, why?
Course offerings have dropped by almost a quarter since 2008, and in a survey, 78 of the system’s 112 colleges reported more than 472,300 students on wait lists for classes this fall semester—an average of about 7,150 per campus. With all the frustration students are dropping out one by one because they cannot get the classes they need to graduate. A large portion of students end up transferring to colleges and universities that tend to make room for as many as they can, but with such long periods at the community college, the system may become less valuable, leaving students who can barely afford an education in the dust.
Proposition 30 intends to put money back into the higher education system. If the proposition fails this November, the funding will fall another 7 percent. Where did the money go in the first place? Naturally, these savings went back into the deficit. And, according to Governor Brown’s budget report, the majority of the funds were taken from student aid and anything that is categorized under “other higher education.” Governor Brown promises to fix the education system in California, to promote class availability, and help students focus solely on major classes or ones required to transfer to UC/CSU and keep state mandates to a minimum. Although, Governor Brown’s proposal is adding a rise to class fees, increasing the cost of a unit from $26 to $36, I do believe the fees should increase minutely, but his plan will still leave 350,000 students without funding from the state. We cannot expect the system to do more with less. Enrollment should be made more specific. Meaning, those students who are solely there for a degree and/or transferring should be given priority to classes. Adults and others who attend just to take classes for fun or broadening horizons should not be allowed admittance, for the time being. There should also be more money diverted from California’s prison system to the educational system. Correctional facilities now obtain more funding than schools, receiving 3.5 percent more than higher education, according to former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Huffington Post. This should be redirected back into education. Maybe then we would not have so many criminals. Let the prisons do more with less, not the schools.
Nick Ardecky, a transfer student now at UCSD, said that, “Miracosta (a community college in San Diego) is funded by some of the wealthiest counties in California…no hurt there. For everyone else, I think that there is a huge problem on our hands, especially since community college has become a new standard for college education.” With this in mind, any county with a surplus or wiggle room should donate funds to other, more impacted counties. Community college has become a new standard of education, seeing as students hope for a cheaper option that can get them on track to graduate. But with the way the budget is structured today, something needs to be done, even if this means relocating funds, increasing taxes and fees, or changing the admittance process.