College summer school in California largely a thing of the past


Johnnica Hababag planned to take two classes this summer so she could transfer from Los Angeles Valley College to a four-year school. But those plans were upended when she learned that the community college had all but canceled its summer session because of budget cuts.

Hababag, an anthropology major, now will have to return to the two-year school in the fall.

“This is definitely going to delay my goals,” said Hababag, 21. “For me, living in the Valley, it’s hard to get to other campuses, and even if I could, they’re not offering the classes I need either.”

She is one of thousands of students up and down the state shut out of classes this summer as funding cuts force many of California’s public colleges to cancel or severely reduce offerings.

Summer school has traditionally provided an outlet for students to help speed progress toward a degree or to transfer — or just to stay on track. But budget reductions this year have forced many public colleges to shift priorities, and many have chosen to slash summer classes to preserve more fall and spring programs.

In the 23-campus California State University system, summer enrollment fell from 75,000 in 2009 to about 12,000 in 2010. The number increased to about 20,000 last year only because campuses on the year-round quarter system offered more courses.

But the number is not expected to rise because most Cal State campuses now require students to foot the entire bill for the classes, rather than using state funds to subsidize a portion of the costs as they do during the regular academic year.

The University of California has been less affected because the 10-campus system has used state funds to increase summer enrollment in previous years, officials said. In 2011, nearly 78,000 students participated in summer instruction, but that number is expected to level off because campuses have fewer resources.

Community colleges have been especially hard hit.

In an informal survey of about half of the state’s 112 community colleges, conducted by the chancellor’s office, more than a third reported reduced offerings this summer and eight campuses planned no summer sessions at all. Overall, enrollment and course offerings have plummeted and are at their lowest level in 15 years. From 2008 to 2011, the number of students served fell nearly 43%.

Santa Monica College found in a recent study that 15 Los Angeles-area community colleges this summer are offering only a third of the courses they offered in 2008, equivalent to a loss of 6,000 teaching assignments and 168,000 classroom seats.

“The state cuts are in the range of 13%, so where does that come from?” asked Don Girard, director of government relations at the popular school. “Summer and winter session are the areas the elected board has the most authority over.”

Santa Monica College is offering about 745 credit and non-credit classes, about the same as last year. Tuition from a large population of international and out-of-state students helps to fund the program, Girard said.

The problem is especially acute in the huge Los Angeles Community College District, where only one of the nine campuses, East Los Angeles College, is offering a full slate of courses — about 330, which is a 30% reduction from the previous year, said Richard Moyer, vice president of academic affairs.

A controversial new policy this year gives priority registration to continuing East L.A. students, leaving those at other campuses in the district with fewer options, Moyer said. About 15,000 students are expected to enroll, and the school could easily have doubled that number if it had the resources, Moyer said.

Although Pierce College and Los Angeles Trade Tech are offering a couple dozen credit courses, Los Angeles Harbor College is typical of others in the district, offering only a smattering of specialized or non-credit courses mostly funded by grants. Harbor student Devin Green managed to find a biology class he needs at El Camino College, which is outside the Los Angeles district. Green, 21, was lucky to get the course and managed to do so only because he has been attending both campuses and was able to register early.

Another Harbor student, Andrew Mestman, said he had unsuccessfully tried to enroll in summer classes for several years and has given up this time. He said he needs one math class to complete requirements to transfer to a four-year institution.

“At Compton College last year, there were 60 people in class and 15 more on a waiting list, so what’s the point?” said Mestman, 20. “It’s like gambling every summer.”

It’s not just students who are frustrated. Ken Sherwood, a public speaking instructor at Los Angeles City College, said this will be the third year in a row he hasn’t taught a summer course, after 20 years of never missing such assignments. And because he’s a full-time employee and can’t apply for unemployment, his income will take a hit.

In previous years he might have been able to pick up a class in another district, but cutbacks have eliminated that option this year. He’s unsure what he’s going to do.

“It’s not like I can walk into a McDonald’s and say I need a job for two months, that’s not practical,” said Sherwood.

Cutbacks in summer programs have exacerbated the difficulty students have in completing course work in two years, drawing out community college to a three-, four- or even five-year undertaking, said A. Susan Carleo, president of Los Angeles Valley College. The school this summer is offering only a few specialized nursing and other classes. The campus budget will be reduced by about 20% next year, from $54 million to $44 million, and hundreds of classes have been cut.

“This is our reason for being, so it’s especially frustrating and painful to see this happen as a direct result of not having adequate state funding,” Carleo said.

But although most colleges are feeling the pain of the higher education cutbacks, not all are in the same situation. The College of the Siskiyous in the Northern California town of Weed is expanding its summer offerings from about 20 classes last year to 120 this year, including about 30 online courses. The tiny, rural college with 1,000 students and 43 full-time faculty is under-enrolled and looking for students, said Robert Frost, vice president of student learning.

Although state education codes forbid direct recruiting of students from other districts, word of mouth has spread as far south as Los Angeles. He said he expects full capacity in most classes, adding that many will probably come from outside the district.

“We have capacity that most urban colleges don’t have,” Frost said, “so we welcome the students.”