RCC Veteran resource building
Photo Credit: Daming Ye, The Highlander

Just last academic year, UC Riverside admitted 5,266 transfer students and the entire UC system admitted 48,662 students. For every UC school over 90 percent of these transfers came from a California Community College. The current UC system offers 239,500 undergraduate and graduate students while the California Community College system is taking in 2.4 million students. One of the main goals of these students is to move on to the university level. With such a large number of students, overcrowding is significantly hurting community colleges; classes are already full before many get a chance to enroll. Due to this, students aren’t getting a high quality of education.

Most of these problems stem from the economic struggles of the past few years. For the first time in five years, Governor Jerry Brown’s new budget proposal is offering increased funding for California’s higher education system. While this sounds great, we have been in a downward spiral for five years and are nowhere near where we need to be. The budget proposal doesn’t do enough to help solve the overcrowding in the community college system. Community college is supposed to be the gateway towards CSUs and UCs. But right now it is merely a black hole that holds on to you for four years until you finally transfer or just give up on the idea of college. Hardly ideal to get students excited to move on to an upper level of education.

Gov. Brown’s budget proposal states, “…California’s approach to higher education has been to heavily subsidize the public segments and keep costs low for university students (and even lower for community college students).” From 2008 to 2012, community college fees have jumped from $20 a unit to $46 per unit. They are hardly keeping up with their word. Community colleges are slowly getting pushed to the sidelines even though they remain the state’s largest educational institution.

Jed Saba started going to college at Palomar Community College—the largest community college system in San Diego County—in the fall of 2010. I have had classes with him in the past before transferring to UCR and gave him a call to see how classes have been. I asked if he was able to get into many classes lately. Saba stated, “Since I started going to Palomar, [over the past five semesters] I haven’t gotten into 15 classes because they were already full.”

This came as a shock to me. That’s almost three semesters’ worth of classes that he has been denied. A full year and a half put on hold for his future. Saba continued, “I have to wait an entire year longer to apply because I couldn’t get into classes that are required to transfer because they were already closed.” How is anyone supposed to transfer in just two years to a university? Is just creating online classes going to be enough for the students?

I figured the new budget would have plenty of money set aside for creating more classes to allow students to not worry about classes being full. Looking more closely at Brown’s budget, there is going to be an increase in $16.9 million toward expanding courses through technology, $49.5 million is going towards energy efficiency projects and $196.9 million is going towards “general purpose community college funding.” If they are only setting aside $16.9 million for more courses then where is this almost $200 million of general funding going toward? According to the Community College League, this general funding distribution is defined as an “undesignated apportionment increase.” We aren’t even being told where this mass of money is going.

The budget also states that “California’s public higher education institutions have led the world in terms of quality, innovation, and affordability.” The first word surprised me: quality. Quality of education. I decided to ask Saba about this idea of quality with one question: has he ever had to sit on the floor during class? Without hesitation he gave his answer: “Oh, God yes, multiple times.” If Governor Brown really does worry about the student’s quality of education then why are students sitting on the floor? We are paying for “higher education” and yet cannot even sit in a desk.

Affordability: that’s what the budget states California has led the world in. But in that exact same budget report it states that “California students in public and nonprofit colleges rank 46th in student debt levels.” How is this affordable at all? Since when does being ranked 46th mean leading the world in affordability? While community colleges do have significantly lower fees, these students have also witnessed them skyrocketing, going from $20 a unit to $46 dollars in the past three years. Fees have more than doubled in just a few short years.

While Saba begins yet another semester at Palomar, I wonder what will be in store in the future due to this surplus. More money sounds like a great idea, but it isn’t being channeled into the right place. Students are still sitting on coffee-stained carpets learning about Plato’s Cave, and many other students have simply given up on the idea of college.

Many of you here at UCR and others at the CSU level might wonder why should we have to worry about community colleges. We’re beyond that, right? UCs and CSUs rely heavily on the community college system to provide them with students and more money. According to the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, 28% of UC students and 55% of CSU students who earn their degrees came from a community college. With the push towards math and science degrees it turns out that currently 48% of Bachelor’s degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math came from community colleges.

These numbers are staggering. With almost half of the degrees coming from community college it is time to place a larger emphasis on the community college level—the first stepping stone. You can’t build a house starting with the roof, you need a solid layer of concrete or else the entire structure will crumble. This same idea needs to be implemented when it comes to California’s higher education system and budget.