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Day 58 Without A State Budget Hurts Higher Education

khts_budgetThe critical condition of the state’s higher education system was laid out by the heads of the UC, CSU and Community College systems at a Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce meeting Friday morning.

On Day 58 without a budget from Sacramento legislators, University of California President Mark Yudof, California State University Chancellor Charles Reed and California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott spelled out the problems facing their institutions and the picture was not pretty.

“The university system and community colleges are feeling the pinch of the budget cutbacks,” Yudof said. “At a time when we should be expanding our enrollment, we’re really under pressure to reduce the number of students we’re able to serve that is antithetical to our access mission. The health of the higher education segments is closely related to California’s ability to move forward with our economy, turning out people who are ready to establish companies and take up jobs.


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Chancellor Scott addressed institutions like College of the Canyons.

“We are once again facing a tremendous surge in enrollment. Most of our classes are over 90 percent filled and there are huge wait lists. Los Rios Community College in Sacramento has more than 80 thousand wait-listed students.

“I consider this a great tragedy when I think of the thousands of students coming to our campuses that we don’t have classes for and the reason is simply that the cuts we sustained last year of 8 percent meant we had to reduce the number of sections and people are being denied.

“It’s a difficult situation that the Community Colleges in California are facing, but I think they are heroically doing their very best to provide as many classes as possible with the resources that are available,” he concluded.

John McElwain, spokesman for College of the Canyons, said that in the last two years, there has been a decline of 14.4 percent in the number of classes offered. Waiting lists, which are capped at 10 per section (or class) are at 7,800 students for the fall semester that just started.

“Some were served, but the waiting list doesn’t move like it used to,” he said.

McElwain said the attitude around campus was changing as well.

“People are civil, but the anxiety is reflected in what we hear anecdotally,” he said. “It used to be people wouldn’t worry if a class time wasn’t exactly convenient, but now, if you have an appointment, classes are valued a bit more.”

On Wednesday, the third day of the fall semester, COC was at a 94 percent fill rate, meaning that some classes were at 100 percent or greater and a few chairs were empty in some other classes. Most of those classes were ones with several prerequisites, but required for degrees or transfers.

“We were at 80 percent and comfortable a few years ago,” McElwain said.

“It’s a sign of the economic times,” he continued. “While we anticipate anxiety and maybe anger, people are frustrated, but there’s an understanding out there and it’s sinking in that all education is getting hammered by the budget. It’s an understanding at the grass roots level.”

. “We’re operating with a blindfold on in regards to how many students we can admit in 2011-2012,” said Chancellor Reed of the CSU system. “Our semester campuses opened this past week and we have over 1,000 more students on campus this week than they anticipated. Last January, CSU closed community college transfer enrollment. We opened enrollment Auguse 1 of this year for the spring/winter term, knowing there will be something in the neighborhood of 30,000 students wanting to transfer. We’re trying to wait until the mid or latter part of September to decide on admitting those students, based on budget.

“Governor has been very strong about supporting UC and CSU. We are scheduled for a $368 million increase in our budget; if we get that, we will increase admission. We need to grow, we need to provide access to more students.”

“The delay is terribly important, because we were supposed to receive payment from state to our collective community colleges in July of $116 million and another $277 million in August. We have not received this money, which means community colleges are dipping into reserves, or having to go out and borrow money. A late budget really hurts us in the pocketbook.:

Scott said that administrative staff at the colleges are about 10 to 20 percent smaller than they were five years ago; retirees are not being replaced and many administrative functions have been consolidated for efficiency and fiscal conservation.

Yudof added that the UC system, despite having to raise tuition in the last two years, have also furloughed and laid off thousands of people; restructured their debt and may realize a savings of $500 million with a new technology system.

In the CSU system, Reed said that all 48,000 employees took 10 percent pay cuts, staff was reduced by several thousand and systems were trimmed for efficiency.

Students worried about CalGrants were assured by Reed and Yudof that the grants will be covered using system resources which will be advanced to students in ancitipation of payback when the budget is passed.

“College by college, some colleges have had sufficient reserves to cover CalGrants to advance money to students, but two-thirds of the community colleges did not have that,” Scott said. “The neediest students will receive grants of $1,551 to assist with textbooks, bus passes and child care, but will have to wait for budget to pass and many will receive Board of Governors waivers so they are not charged tuition, for those who can establish financial need.”

The administrators likened the current situation to an overcrowded bus; Reed described a vehicle with 70 seats and 100 passengers – the colleges simply have run out of room in tough financial times.

Scott brought it home to the community college level that was echoed by McElwain of COC.

“Students show up in the start of class and stand at the back of the room, not being admitted but hoping there might be some drop outs so they can get into the class. They are on wait lists, which is simply saying if someone does not show up, they can ask to get the class,” Scott said. “Some of them get in, most of them don’t. We estimate last year that there were 140,000 students who came to campus or attempted to online register who just couldn’t get a class. Our first-time enrollments dropped because continuing students had priority. It wasn’t because of lack of demand, it was lack of supply.”

“At UC it’s a similar type story,” Yudof added. “Everything takes longer, classes are bigger, fewer sections that are offered, there’s always the risk that you won’t get your degree in a timely manner. We work hard to alleviate that, but if you’re not hiring replacement professors, if you’re waiting in line to get your financial aid packages and you’re not replacing people in the financial aid offices, there’s the risk that everything will slow down.”

The effect on California’s universities standings as premier research facilities might be the most severe effect of the budget impasse.

“There is the risk that our research position will deteriorate if we can’t hire and retain the same faculty we’ve historically had,” Yudof said.

Asked about the possibility of a fee increase, he said that students have already been hit pretty hard and are already attending classes.

“If we don’t get a budget by November, we won’t even know what our situation is to adjust fees,” he said. “We need to be careful about increases and look for savings elsewhere.”

Scott emphasized that the situation should not be taken lightly.

“We don’t get money when the budget isn’t passed. September 28 is when we are supposed to be paid nearly $450 million. If this budget isn’t settled by September 28, there will be a few community colleges who will have difficulty meeting payroll,” he said. “They’ve gone to banks, they’ve borrowed money, but there is a limit to what they can do. We will eventually get that money, but the Controller can’t send out those checks until the budget is signed. And so we simply catch it in the neck in that we have to find the money somewhere. When colleges dip into their reserves, they lose interest on those reserves.”