Acceptance letters have been sent, parents and friends consulted, and by now, most high school seniors have made the tough decision on where they will be attending college this fall. It’s a time of celebration and anticipation—a single decision that will shape the futures of thousands of Californians.
The disappointing reality for many students is that dreams of a college education at a University of California or California State University campus may be difficult to realize—both because of intense competition for fewer seats as well as skyrocketing tuition costs. These local students, who would once have attended a CSU or UC out of high school, are increasingly turning to one of the nine community colleges in San Diego and Imperial counties, where they can complete the first half of an undergraduate education at a fraction of the cost. This year, however, thousands of high school graduates bound for one of our colleges will be in for a shock.
With their long history of open access, California’s community colleges admit the top 100 percent of applicants—we accept all who are eligible, without exception or apology. However, our newest students will find it increasingly difficult to get the classes they need. In response to state budget crisis and Sacramento’s crippling cuts to higher education, our local community colleges have been forced to slash thousands of classes.
Following Governor Brown’s May revised budget released this week, the stakes are even higher for passage of the governor’s tax initiative in November. If voters don’t pass the governor’s November tax initiative, California’s community colleges will suffer a roughly $300 million cut in January, on top of the $502 million cut the system took in the 2011-12 academic year. Here at home, San Diego and Imperial County community colleges would face cuts of $27 million. Clearly, this would be a devastating hit to our local community colleges, which collectively educate 225,000 San Diego and Imperial county students each year.
Community college students must now compete for precious class seats, and tens of thousands are being turned away at the door. We are in the most unfortunate Catch-22— we have more students demanding enrollment than ever before, but not enough money to pay for the faculty and staff to teach them.
For students, completing community college has become more than a two-year commitment. With fewer classes available, many must now take three, four or more years to finish their associate degree, certificate or two-year transfer program. In addition, most community colleges in San Diego and Imperial counties have had to decimate their summer sessions, which used to provide another resource for students trying to complete their degree or workforce training and transfer in two years.
The cutbacks to community colleges have a ripple effect with tremendous costs for the region. Community colleges play a key role in California’s higher education system, yet with budget cuts of $800 million since 2008-09, community colleges have been forced to ration the education they provide.
This continued disinvestment in California’s community colleges comes at a time when the education they offer is more valuable than ever before. A recent study for the San Diego-Imperial County Community Colleges Association found that from the costs of running the colleges to the better jobs and pay that students receive as the result of their education, the area’s community colleges bring in a $6.6 billion increase to California’s income each year.
California’s higher education system, once the envy of the world, is suffering. However, at the ballot box this fall, Californians will be asked to make a decision that could help salvage California higher education -- one that could get our state, and our children, back on track to earning degrees that lead to higher wages, greater success, and an improved economy and society.
We urge you to support funding for community colleges and for California’s entire higher education system. Voter approval of the governor’s tax initiative in November is the only way to avoid the further dismantling of California’s community colleges. In the meantime, before the November election, let your legislator know how important community colleges are for our region and our state. And make sure to offer words of encouragement and support to the tens of thousands of local high school seniors venturing off to college to pursue dreams of successful careers and a bright future.
Rodriguez is Superintendent/President of MiraCosta College; San Diego Imperial Counties Community College Association (SDICCCA) President
Carroll is Chancellor o f San Diego Community College District; SDICCCA Vice-President