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California community colleges report higher enrollment, more classes

EducationColleges and UniversitiesScienceJerry Brown

California community colleges are starting the fall term on an upbeat note, with most boosting enrollment and the number of classes offered, according to a survey of the state's two-year schools released Wednesday.

About 90% of the campuses that answered the survey reported higher enrollment than last fall, and 84% are increasing course sections. Of the state's 112 community colleges, 95 responded to the survey from the chancellor's office. Overall, enrollment is expected to increase by 2.5% and course sections by 5%.

About 60,000 more students are expected to enroll systemwide this fall, officials said. It was a welcome turnaround from last year, when many colleges were planning for further budget cuts. Officials at the time were uncertain of the fate of Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's measure to increase state sales tax and some income taxes mostly for education. Voters approved it in November.

"The news is certainly much better at the beginning of this academic year than just one year ago thanks to the passage of Prop. 30," Chancellor Brice W. Harris said during a telephone call with reporters. "There is more opportunity for students and more courses being offered this year than last."

Colleges responding to the survey represented a cross-section of the state. Sierra College in the Sierra Nevada foothill community of Rocklin is increasing enrollment by about 5% and course sections by nearly 8%. The school will restore about 254 course sections, opening 6,500 seats for students, said Sierra President William H. Duncan, who joined Harris on the call.

Orange Coast College is adding about 200 class sections this fall, an increase of about 12% that will mean thousands of additional seats for students, officials said.

Although there still is demand, especially for English, math and science, the Costa Mesa campus started the semester with open seats in many classes. Besides expanding summer classes, the college plans to offer a winter session in January for the first time in years. Enrollment is projected to increase to about 20,260 from 18,850 in fall 2012, and the campus has hired additional part-time faculty.

"There's a vibrancy on campus that feels very positive after some tough budget years," John Weispfenning, vice president of instruction, said.

It's a far cry from the situation a year ago when nearly all colleges reported steep declines in enrollment and class offerings. Last year, more than 470,000 students began the fall term on waiting lists at campuses that responded to a survey, averaging 7,157 per school.

This fall, an average of 5,026 students are on waiting lists.

The community college system, the nation's largest, had been hit with about $1.5 billion in state funding cuts since 2007. The number of class sections had decreased 24% while enrollment had fallen to 2.3 million from 2.9 million.

Colleges have not climbed completely out of that hole, but funding from Proposition 30 has helped, officials said.

Community colleges received an infusion of about $210 million this year, with an additional $600 million approved in the 2013-14 state budget.

Orange Coast student Wael Alhathal said that there were many more offerings available this fall compared with last year and that his biggest concern was getting classes with instructors who had high ratings from fellow students in his civil engineering major. He got into all five of his classes and found it harder to find a parking space on the crowded campus.

"From what I see, it's a benefit for everyone," said Alhathal, 21, a student from Bahrain who would like to stay and work in the U.S. "The more students who can get classes and graduate, the more they will benefit the future."

carla.rivera@latimes.com

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