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California community colleges to slash enrollment, classes

Colleges and UniversitiesBudgets and BudgetingJerry Brown

Facing a state funding cut of up to 10%, California's community colleges will enroll 400,000 fewer students next fall and slash thousands of classes to contend with budget shortfalls that threaten to reshape their mission, officials said Wednesday.

The dire prognosis was in response to the breakdown in budget talks in Sacramento and the likelihood that the state's 112 community colleges will be asked to absorb an $800-million funding reduction for the coming school year -- double the amount suggested in Gov. Jerry Brown's current budget proposal.

As it now stands, the budget plan would raise community college student fees from $26 to $36 per unit. The fees may go even higher if a budget compromise is not reached.

During a telephone news briefing, California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott said the funding cuts, under either scenario, would be a tragedy for students and a deep blow to the state's economy.

"Students seeking to transfer to Cal State and the University of California will be denied access, those students unable to get into Cal State and UC and who desperately need to get into a community college will be denied, as well as those who are out of work and are coming to us for retraining," Scott said.

"We will do the best we can, but we will not be serving the needs of students or meeting our education goals."

Under the best-case scenario, Long Beach City College will cut 222 course sections this fall, turn away 1,000 full-time students who can't get classes and lose more than 30 staff positions, President Eloy Oakley said. He and several other community college leaders joined Scott for the telephone briefing.

"Given the scenario now before us, we will reduce our enrollment back to 1999-2000 levels, which is a significant defunding, particularly at a time when demand at Long Beach City College has never been greater," Oakley said.

About 18,000 students will be unable to enroll this fall at four Sacramento-area colleges in the Los Rios Community College District -- and more would be turned away if the larger funding reduction is imposed, Chancellor Brice W. Harris said.

"This is a statewide crisis, and increasingly we're going to see our bright young folks leaving the state to get an education," Harris said.

The three-college San Diego Community College District is planning to shed more than 1,000 classes and turn away 20,000 students, Chancellor Constance Carroll said. More classes and about 27,000 students would be turned away under the larger reduction.

"In San Diego, with a 10% unemployment rate, we have new jobs that require a college education, there are shortages in nursing and other careers and an unprecedented demand for students," Carroll said. "The bottom line is students will not have the opportunities they need."

Summer sessions, whose schedules must be completed soon, are likely to be decimated, even if there is a last-minute budget breakthrough, the officials said.

John Hooper, a computer science major at Los Angeles Valley College, said the unavailability of summer classes means it will take him an extra two years to complete the requirements he needs to transfer to UCLA.

He was among scores of students at several Los Angeles-area community colleges who held a "die-in" Wednesday to protest the effect of state budget cuts on their education.

The students lay in rows on the pavement and held tombstones made of black poster board with inscriptions such as "Here Lies California Education." Hooper said he has tried for three semesters without success to get into one chemistry class that he needs. His plight is shared by thousands of other students.

"You're lucky to get any class, let alone the classes you want," Hooper, 28, said after the event.

"Many students feel disempowered about what to do, but we're telling them to vote, to call their legislators. Education is a way out of everything...and should never be cut."

carla.rivera@latimes.com

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