Community colleges push backThey see big budget cut rationalized as reform
Community college trustees and administrators never expected to be exempt from budget cuts. Not next year. But they are particularly irked over how Gov. Jerry Brown is framing the 6.8 percent, $400 million funding decrease and a $10 per credit increase that he is proposing for the 112 community colleges’ budgets next year. He is presenting the cut as a reform and the higher fees as quality protection. Neither is the case, they say.
Brown wants to raise fees from $26 to $36 per credit, a 40 percent increase. California’s tuition would still be the lowest in the nation, and families earning under $65,000 would qualify to have the increase waived. But Brown is proposing to use the $110 million in additional revenue not to improve programs and services but to fund the growth in student enrollment. So it would be disingenuous to tell students facing longer wait lists and more crowded classes that higher fees would in any way benefit them, they said during a conference call last week of the Community College League of California, which lobbies for the colleges.
The $400 million cut would be a move toward ending the practice of reimbursing colleges for the number of students enrolled on Census Day – the Monday after the first three weeks in a quarter. Since 16 percent of students on average drop out of courses after that date, the Brown administration is implying that the already underfunded colleges are getting money they don’t deserve.
A variety of analysts and researchers, including Nancy Shulock, director of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Sacramento State, have urged an end to funding based strictly on “seat time.” They favor results-based budgeting, which other states are trying, with incentives to colleges that increase course completion and transfer and graduation rates. A commission of chancellors and college presidents endorsed the concept last fall in 2020 Vision: A Report of the Commission on the Future of the Community College League of California.
But they envisioned this major shift in policy to be done thoughtfully and gradually, recognizing the need to build in factors that protect colleges serving the most disadvantaged students. Instead, it looks like an afterthought to rationalize a big budget cut.
A $400 million cut is the equivalent of not funding 350,000 students, according to the chancellor’s office. If forced to take it, the League and others will argue that the $110 million from higher fees should reduce the cut, to $290 million, not fund additional student growth. And the cut should be done as a “workforce reduction,” giving colleges latitude to protect and prioritize basic skills, transfer, and workforce training courses.
Simply cutting the budget, at a time when CSU and UC will be limiting enrollments and directing tens of thousands of students to community colleges, creates the false impression that they can continue to do more with less.
Clarification: According to data supplied by the chancellor’s office, a cut of $400 million “translates into approximately 400,000 students losing access to classes (200,000 students already in the system for which the colleges are receiving no state remuneration and roughly 200,000 additional students).” The $110 million generated by the additional $10 per unit fee increase would fund an additional 50,000 students, so the net number of students losing access would be 350,000.
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