How to Save the Community Colleges During the Budget Crisis

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.