California’s Budget Crisis Means Hundreds of Class Sections Cut
College of the Canyons will likely lose at least $3.8 million, and more than 200 course sections, for the 2011-2012 school year, due to proposed cuts by Gov. Jerry Brown and California’s $26.6 billion budget deficit.
That’s due to a proposed $290 million spending cut to the California Community Colleges system, which is actually reduced from $400 million because of the tuition increase from $26- to $36-a-unit, which was signed into law last month. That’s the best-case scenario.
At this point in the negotiations between Brown and the legislature, however, little is actually certain in terms of cuts to higher education, which could also mean COC losing nearly $10 million and 775 class sections — about half of an entire average semester. That would be due to a potential spending cut of $800 million to the California Community Colleges system, which the school considers a “worst-case scenario,” according to Director of External Relations Eric Harnish.
Summer sections are actually expected to rise in number from 257 in 2010 to 324 in 2011. Harnish said that the school was able to increase classes because of money it had saved to its section cut backs from the last couple of semesters, which is a measure the school takes to prepare for “mid-year” cuts.
Brown has said that the $800 million cut will occur if specific tax extensions are not passed by either the legislature or California voters, who needed two-thirds approval from lawmakers for those extensions to be placed on the ballot in June, which he failed to receive. Last month, Brown signed 13 bills that he said will cut the deficit nearly in half, he left on the table the major CCC cut, in hopes of eventually getting those tax extensions, which he claimed will balance the budget in four years, passed by the voters of California.
Harnish stated that the tax extensions, which expire later this year, do not necessarily have to be approved by voters, but that Brown ran part of his campaign on giving the voters a chance to help change the budget.
“If we don’t get the tax extensions, you’re looking at another four or five billion,” Brown said to a small invite-only crowd at Hart High School in Newhall.
Since he failed to get those extensions approved, Brown visited Santa Clarita earlier this week to meet with State Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, along with educators and law enforcement, during his first stop of a statewide tour to persuade Republicans legislators to vote for tax extensions. For more on that story click here.
Regardless of how high or low the cuts end up being, Harnish said that COC has a backup plan for situations like these.
“We’ve approached this very conservatively,” said Harnish, who also serves as special assistant to the chancellor. “We’ve identified some savings that we were able to make and some money we had actually set aside in anticipation of these cuts.”
Harnish said that he believes the actual cut will fall somewhere between $3 million and $10 million. He added that the state legislature does not want to increase the number of students at the school. Currently, COC receives a set amount for each student that is enrolled, but Harnish said the legislature wants to avoid spending less money on each student, which means less room for students.
COC has been able to avoid money-saving moves such as furlough days due to their constant “looking ahead” approach. For instance, the school has looked at the potential $800 million cut as more of a $1 billion cut, which will help set extra money away into their rainy day fund that will be used to help restore sections lost this fall semester.
COC Department Chairs Try to Plan Fall Schedule With Fewer Classes
Sitting in her office in Hasley Hall, Victoria Leonard goes on with her busy day by grading papers and sending out emails. She is COC’s chair of communications and her department, which once boasted 48 class sections, has seen a 10 percent reduction in sections over the last few years, and is expecting another 10 percent cut for the fall semester alone.
“Some years ago we had about 48 sections, then we’re at like 44 sections. And I think for fall it was 43 sections, and it might go down a couple more sections,” Leonard said. She added that it’s not that easy to simply increase class sizes either.
“We are mandated to stay at our class cap. … If we go to high over our caps … the bottom line is that the school loses money.” Leonard said a lot of students may not know about the cap when it comes to wanting to be added to a particular course in the beginning of each semester. Students will often see open desks in a classroom, but the teacher cannot add because of the mandated limit on students.
California’s budget deficit is also affecting adjunct professors as well. Leonard said that one adjunct recently quit to open up more classes for other part-time instructors.
“I had one part-timer who actually offerred not to come back and teach next fall,” Leonard said. “She was trying to make room for our other part-timers.”
Students Struggle to Find Classes to Graduate and/or Transfer
Khristine Arrieta has been a COC student for only three semesters, and in that time she has risen from first-year freshman to COC’s Associated Student Government Publicity Affairs Officer. She ran for office after starting out as a director, but says she loved how ASG members were “so involved” and called the experience a “great opportunity for me.”
But Arrieta, who is a biology major with dreams of becoming a doctor, is struggling to find certain classes she wants to take before transferring to a four-year university.
“I wanted to take some chemistry classes … but I don’t think they’re offering it during summer,” Arrieta said. “I guess I’m going to have to take it at the other school, wherever I get into, and that means I’m gonna have to pay more.”
Molly raven, vice president of the political science club, pointed out that financial aid is becoming more strict in terms of access because of a lack of funds as well.
“As far as financial aid goes … they’re cracking down on the requirements to get the FAFSA and Pell Grants. … And then they’re raising prices for school,” Raven said. “There’s less classes so it’s harder to transfer and it just makes everything difficult.”
Raven added that she needed one class to graduate, but having the third day of registration priority led her to being added to a waitlist instead. She hopes to take the class in fall.