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How to Save the Community Colleges During the Budget Crisis

by Indy, published

With a likelihood of a $47 million decrease in funding and $340 million in deferred payments from the state, California's 110 community colleges have not escaped the doom-and-gloom of budget cuts. Couple that with the daunting statistic of a 10 percent increase in applications this year, a trend that echoes in different proportions around the country, and the result could be a 5 percent cut in classes. However, creative solutions could guarantee that community colleges, and their students, escape the financial crunch less scathed than the numbers predict.

The system, which enrolls 2.7 million students statewide, still has options to make it easier for its students to stay enrolled, and allow higher degree seekers easier access to the four year institutions they desire. For one, California's community colleges should consider offering more online and distance learning classes. Students whose local community college does not offer, say, UC or CSU transferable Art History or Statistics courses should look into ones, even those based afar, that do. Plenty of institutions, such as Diablo Valley College, based in Concord, are an academic gold mine of classes that make the cut--and do not ever require its students to set foot in the classroom. Web sites such as Assist.org are specifically set up to tell students whether their courses, online and distance learning included, are transferable to their institution of choice.

Community colleges should also consider modifying their enrollment policy. Now, almost anyone who is a California resident easily fits the bill for acceptance to the $20-per-unit institutions. While a large number of applicants are Associates or Bachelor degree seeking, many are likely simply looking to augment their skills, cater to their intellectual curiosity or delve into a change of scenery. While these folks should be able to take advantage of the colleges' offerings, they should not--at least in times of a deficit--be given completely equal footing with students seeking to gain a degree or transfer in the near future. Impacted classes that are UC and CSU transferable--or that students can prove transfer to another institution of their liking-- should give priority enrollment to students who state on their application that they aim to transfer. Granted, there is no way to hold them to their words, but it will at least trim classes down, allowing more students to gain the classes they need--and the opportunities they will provide down the line.

Still, there is no grade-A solution to the colleges' financial woes. Schools still have to pay instructors to lead online courses, or create them. However, they are saved from construction costs, as classrooms are replaced with with virtual ones, and programs such as WebCT allow for easy online course design. Educational experts have oft argued that in-person learning is the most effective, and some students learn best when their teacher exists in human, rather than computerized, form. But to adhere to the old "desperate times call for desperate measures" aphorism, offering transferable classes, in whatever format, should be the aim right now. Furthermore, traditional classes would not be eliminated, they would just be complimented with alternatives.

California community colleges currently await stimulus package funds, which they should seek to utilize in the most efficient way possible. That should not making it easier--rather than the other way around--for California residents, and degree seekers, to meet their goals. As CSUs and UCs have already put a ceiling on enrollment, there needs to be another viable option.

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