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Enrollment at Community Colleges Rises Despite Cuts : Education: A funding shortfall has eliminated classes. But campuses have more students this fall than last, continuing a five-year trend.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Enrollment at area community colleges continued a five-year upward spiral this fall, despite the schools’ growth-management efforts and state budget cuts that have reduced the number of available classes by hundreds.

Mission College, which moved into its permanent campus in Sylmar, had the most dramatic increase--almost 25%. Next was Valley College in Van Nuys with 9%. Pierce College in Woodland Hills, part of the Los Angeles Community College District along with Mission and Valley, reported a more modest increase of 2.7%.

Antelope Valley College and College of the Canyons in the Santa Clarita Valley--both in areas with rapidly increasing populations--also had more students. Both remain in the top five of the state’s fastest growing community college districts--Antelope Valley at second and the Santa Clarita Community College District, which operates College of the Canyons, at fourth.

Antelope Valley College grew by about 6.5%, while Canyons had almost 4.8% more students.

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“With Mission College opening, I thought maybe we would get fewer students,” said Michele Jenkins, president of the Board of Trustees of the Santa Clarita district. “But Mission grew, too.”

College administrators attribute the increases to population growth, higher unemployment rates, and fee increases and budget cutbacks at Cal State University campuses.

“When people don’t work, they go to school,” said Diane Van Hook, superintendent/president of the Santa Clarita district.

Each campus is coping with less money and more students in its own way.

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Antelope Valley College began holding late afternoon and Saturday classes to make more efficient use of classroom space. A growth-management plan went into effect this year at Canyons, resulting in a lower growth rate.

Some campuses cut off registration earlier or closed classes. Virtually all five colleges increased class sizes.

“The classes are pretty crowded around here,” said Bill Norlund, vice president of academic affairs at Pierce. “We’re seeing 80 students in classrooms meant to hold 40.”

Still, hundreds of students were left out in the cold. Many who succeeded in enrolling failed to get classes they needed for their degrees. Pierce had “somewhere in the neighborhood of 12,000 students on waiting lists” for classes, Norlund said.

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“You cannot come here at the last minute and expect to get the classes you want,” said Shelley Gerstl, assistant dean of admissions and records at Pierce.

At Canyons, Van Hook said about 950 people “didn’t get any classes at all.”

Ilya Kats, a student from the Soviet Union, said he was told to attend Fairfax Adult School or wait until January. He had tried to enroll in an English as a second language class at Valley College.

Tyree Wieder, vice president of academic affairs, said that Valley offered about 300 fewer classes this fall than in 1990.

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“We scheduled fewer because we knew we would not have the level of funding to put on the type of fall semester as we had in the past,” she said.

Still, she said, Valley has accepted more students.

“We have larger classes,” Wieder said.

“We turned away students wanting general education courses,” said Mary Spangler, Valley dean of admissions. She said Valley students may have learned last year to register early if they wanted to get their choice of classes.

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“About 3,000 more continuing students registered by mail this year,” she said.

Spangler said the college employed a professional registration firm this year to mail registration forms, which also may have contributed to students signing up for classes earlier.

Spangler said Valley’s enrollment was about 20,000 at the end of last week.

Pierce College in Woodland Hills, where enrollment grew to 19,465, had some departments, such as agriculture and electronics, with declining enrollments. Norlund said that because of this, the school could not add more general education classes such as English or math.

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Last year, Pierce coped with a budget that was $1.7 million less than the previous year.

“We cut 100 classes in the fall,” Norlund said. “In the spring, 200 fewer classes were scheduled.”

At Mission College, administrators, overjoyed at finally having a permanent campus after 16 years, worried about having to turn students away.

Mission received extra funds for its move, allowing the college some leeway in class schedules, President Jack Fujimoto said.

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Still, with a jump from 7,692 to 9,602 students, many classes were closed before the fall semester began.

And administrators said the college already has outgrown its new campus of three buildings and needs millions of dollars more to build new facilities.

Antelope Valley College, which has plans to build new classrooms, also is running out of space.

“It’s tough,” said Jim McDonald, director of admissions. “We’ll be able to add 20 new classrooms and we’re remodeling some more. Right now, we have 10 portable trailers we’re using as classrooms.”

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But, he said, the college is trying to control enrollment without infringing on academic programs. Toward that end, the college scheduled some classes in the evenings and on Saturdays a year ago to accommodate more students.

“They had such great reception we decided to offer quite a few more this fall,” he said. “Right now, we have between 1,100 and 1,400 attending Saturday classes only. Many are in general education classes.”

In addition, the college holds evening classes at local high schools. The college gets about 500 new students each year from the high schools alone and they, along with continuing students, are given priority enrollment.

“We cater to our high schools,” McDonald said.

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Although the district cut off registration early this year, enrollment grew from 9,833 to 10,456.

College of the Canyons instituted a growth-management plan that included a freeze on spending and the number of classes this year, resulting in a smaller growth rate than the previous year.

The school grew by only 296 students, from 6,104 to 6,400, this year, compared to an increase from 5,667 to 6,104 (437 new students) last year.

“Over 80% of our classes were closed before school started,” Van Hook said.

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That district also gives priority to local high school students, about 53% of whom enroll initially at Canyons, according to the Hart Union High School District.

Van Hook said the district hopes to control enrollment until state funding catches up with growth.

“Last year, 23% of our students were unfunded,” she said. “Now, we’re down to 14%.”

The state bases funds it gives districts to educate each student on projections done by the state Department of Finance, which were lower than the district’s actual growth, Van Hook said.

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Van Hook and other educators said they expect the enrollment growth trend to continue as long as unemployment rates remain high and budget problems persist at state university campuses.

“We saw a lot of students coming to us from Cal State Northridge,” said Pierce’s Gerstl.

She said Pierce also is seeing more part-time students, which means that more students are working and taking fewer classes, or that more students could not get classes needed for their degrees.

These students will have to attend a community college longer than two years before transferring to a four-year college or university, taking up space that might have been available to other students, Gerstl said.

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“Up here, there’s a lot of unemployment in the aerospace business,” said Antelope Valley’s McDonald. “Lots of people are coming back to school to be re-educated. They’re staying in the Antelope Valley instead of moving.”

Van Hook said, however, that she believes community colleges finally are getting much-deserved recognition.

“Community colleges have finally come into their own,” she said. “They’re the college of first choice for many. People have learned they can get a quality education at a cheaper price. We’re a good bargain.”

Community College Enrollment Growth

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Figures shown list enrollment early in each fall semester. The Valley College figures include all students ever enrolled in classes for the semester in question.

1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 Antelope Valley College 7,724 8,557 8,637 9,833 10,456 College of the Canyons 4,650 4,880 5,667 6,104 6,400 Mission College 5,643 5,681 5,386 7,692 9,602 Pierce College 18,179 18,483 18,531 18,948 19,465 Valley College 20,026 19,934 20,529 19,175 20,931


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