COSTA MESA — Vance Longarini moved 250 miles this summer to attend Orange Coast College. The Paso Robles resident planned to study business administration and get into "the hotel game."
But when he got here, there was no room for him in algebra or in introduction to business. Like 12,000 other OCC students, Longarini must wait for an open seat in the classes he will need.
"It just feels like I'm in a holding pattern," said Longarini, 18. "The airplane is going around and around, and it's wasting a lot of time and a lot of gas."
Enrollment numbers have risen at community colleges statewide. As the economic downtown prompts legions of unemployed to reinvent themselves, college-age students are having trouble getting the classes they need.
Kristin Clark, vice president of student services, said OCC classes are 96% full.
"It's happening as a result of increased demand and a lack of resources to meet the demand," Clark said.
OCC received a near-record of 35,000 applicants for the summer and fall semesters combined, Clark said. The college is serving 25,000 students this semester — another near record: Enrollment hasn't been higher since the '80s.
California's financial problems have trickled down to the Coast Community College District, Clark said. The district was forced to cut $15 million from this year's budget, $4 million of it at OCC.
The state also capped OCC's enrollment at about 22,000 students, Clark said. But there's good news this semester, she added.
"We have a wait-list," Clark said. "In the past it was just a free-for-all, and much of it involved luck."
Students would just randomly check to see if somebody dropped a class, Clark said. If a student dropped a course, another would take her spot.
Under the current wait-list system, she said, everything works more equitably.
"It holds students in place in line and e-mails them when their classes are ready," she said.
Of the 26,000 seats on this fall semester's wait-list, 5,000 seats have been filled, Clark said.
Some waiting lists span three years — not just a semester — like the college's allied health programs, Clark said.
The programs' subjects are varied, some maybe a little technical-sounding. They include cardiovascular technology, sleep habits and diagnostic medical stenography.
"These are the jobs that are on the market," she said. "This is where people are actually hiring and you can get hired, but you have to have training in the field."
For now, Longarini is working at AT&T on Harbor Boulevard. He's making $9 an hour, plus a percentage of commission at a time when the largest sector of the unemployed is between 18 and 24 years old.
He will try enrolling again in the spring.
"I'd rather be studying," Longarini said. "I probably wouldn't be working full time if I had gotten into my classes."