By Ryan Rudrud
The life of a college student can be very stressful. Homework, essays, finals, work, very little sleep. It’s all more than enough to be overwhelming.
But most college students will agree that the worst thing about attending school is how much it costs, and most students do not even know what all their money is going towards.
Here at COC, it is pretty typical of most colleges in California. The state controls all of it.
“We really don’t get any money from the students,” said Eric Harnish, from the Public Relations office at COC. “It all goes up to Sacramento.”
The state government collects all money from all public universities and junior colleges, divides it up, and passes it back out to schools based off of how much they realistically need, called an “apportionment.”
This apportionment is the largest amount of money that colleges receive from the government. College of the Canyons receives roughly $4,600 for every full-time student enrolled at the school.
While that number might seem like a lot, the apportionment is split up and given for specific purposes, determined by the state.
The “general fund,” which is the amount of money the college can use however they see fit, at COC is roughly $101.46 million for the 2015-2016 school year, according to Harnish.
“Our general fund here at the college is divided into three parts, and most of it goes to our teachers,” said Harnish.
In fact, a total of 84 percent of COC’s general fund goes to salaries and benefits for the entire staff and crew. The other 16 percent goes toward all other expenses, such as construction of new buildings, expansion of the parking lots or equipment for certain departments.
While there are no departments currently underfunded or being phased out, certain departments require more money than others.
“Take the English department here, we really only need to pay the teachers and make sure the computers are working,” explained Harnish. “But the nursing department, for example, is going to need more money for medical equipment, dummies to practice with, stuff like that. So all of that gets taken into consideration here.”
Unfortunately, as the economy goes, so does college funding.
The general fund is significantly less during an economic downturn than when everything is fine, due to the government giving out less to the colleges.
The main problem with this is the fact that enrollment at colleges skyrockets when the economy tanks.
“When people lose their jobs, they always think it would be best to come back here to try one more chance at getting a degree, and we just don’t have enough money to handle them all,” said Harnish.
“I got let go a couple years back when the company went under, so I figured I could see what this school might have for me,” said one student in his 40s, who wished to remain anonymous.
Before the recession hit in 2008, college was actually much cheaper. The state only charged $11 per unit at COC, and the amount of the general fund spent towards salaries and benefits was only 71 percent. Since then, it has been pretty steady at $46 per unit.
Since 2008, the salaries and benefits for teachers has risen. In the 2009 school year, it took up 80 percent, 81 percent from 2010 – 2012, 85 percent in 2013, and 84 percent for the last two years.
“I always hated how expensive school was and I kind of always blamed the administration for it, but it makes sense that it’s the government,” said student Brandon Marion, a physics major. “I never really looked into where the money went because I thought it would just make me mad.”
Another problem with the rise in enrollment is the fact that the school needs to create more classes to fit all the new demand.
“In 2005, we had about 1,400 class sections available for our students,” explained Harnish. “Last year in 2014, we went over 1,700, which was an all-time high for College of the Canyons.”
Although they are at an all-time high, COC is trying to make classes bigger as opposed to creating new classes because they need to work around hiring new teachers. The problem with this is how much strain is being put on the teachers already employed with the school.
Most teachers hate having to teach several classes filled with 40 students each because it just gets to be too much. Some teachers decide to request a raise to help make up for this added trouble.
The problem here is that most colleges have already maxed out every dollar at their disposal, and they can not realistically grant a raise to any of the teachers.
“Some of our teachers get really upset at how much more work is put on them with expanding their classes, but it is what it is,” laughed Harnish. “They knew what they were signing up for.”
Some teachers find they are not able to do their jobs as well as they might otherwise be able to because of how many more students they need to help.
“I just can’t find time to talk to each one of my kids and help them with whatever they might be having trouble with,” said one teacher who requested to remain anonymous. “I understand they don’t want to hire more teachers but they can’t expect us to single out each individual student to make sure they’re understanding the material.”
Any way you cut it, the budget here at COC is pretty complicated. With the vast majority of the money going straight toward teachers’ salaries, the school is left with very little wiggle room for when more students come rushing in or when the classes hit their limit. This is a problem that is not going away any time soon, so we might as well get used to how things are.