East Los Angeles College summer school turns away many students

Thousands of students descended on East Los Angeles College on Monday for the first day of summer session, but many of them walked away disappointed. Classroom spots were a hot commodity, and many students didn’t get one.

State funding cuts have forced many of California’s public colleges to severely reduce or cancel summer programs. Nowhere is the pressure felt more than in the state’s 112 community colleges, where overall enrollment and course offerings have plummeted to their lowest level in 15 years.

In the huge Los Angeles Community College District, East L.A. is the only one of nine campuses offering a full slate of courses — about 329 — and that is a reduction of about 30% from previous years. The campus this year gave priority registration to continuing East L.A. students but expected hundreds, if not thousands, of other students to try to enroll.

About 13,351 spots were available in all, and 13,000 of them had been filled before Monday, officials said.

The result: scenes like that in math instructor Myung Yun’s classroom, where about 90 students showed up at 7:20 a.m. to add the class that was already at its capacity of 45.

They included students like Gao Xin, an electrical engineering major who needed the course to transfer to a four-year university. Yun decided to hold a lottery for 10 more students, but Xin didn’t win a spot.

Xin said he now will probably have to wait another year to transfer.

“And tuition keeps going up, so by wasting time now I’m going to have to pay more in the future,” said Xin, 25.

Cal State Long Beach student Joe Martinez needed a calculus class to maintain standing in his electrical engineering major. He had hoped to take the course at a community college because he doesn’t have the money for the much steeper state university summer fees.

“I passed all my prerequisite math courses and just needed the calculus,” said Martinez, 18, who will be a sophomore at the Long Beach campus. “I guess I did all of that for nothing.”

Tiffany Hee is a math teacher at Alliance Huntington Park College-Ready Academy High School, who hoped to take the calculus class as a refresher because she has been asked to teach Advanced Placement calculus at her school next year.

She offered to act as an unpaid teaching assistant in Yun’s class if he allowed more students in, to no avail.

“I saw the class in the schedule and it was early in the morning, so I didn’t expect 80 other people trying to get in; it’s kind of a shock,” said Hee, a Cal State L.A. graduate who has been teaching for a year. “I still have to teach the class, regardless, so if I can’t get in, I’ll study on my own.”

For teacher Yun, the throng of students was not unexpected. For two months he has been flooded with emails from students begging to be let in. But too large a class would hamper instruction, he said.

“I want to keep them all, but it’s not fair to all,” Yun said. “We need more money. We’re suffering.”

About 40 of the students later met with Richard Moyer, vice president for academic affairs, to vent their frustration over not being accommodated.

“This is a budget crisis, not something that we at this college have any control over,” Moyer told them.

In answer to a student’s question, Moyer said he was fearful that if Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax initiative fails on the November ballot, the campus may not be able to offer any classes next summer.

“There is a huge demand of students and they want to accelerate their education,” Moyer said. “We think of ourselves as a year-round school, but financial pressures are making us put more focus on fall and spring schedules, and it’s setting students back.”