Monday, May 23, 2011

Community college leaders warn of "educational Armageddon" without tax extensions

GCCCD Chancellor Cindy L. Miles speaks at press conference

Community college leaders in San Diego and Imperial counties say that tax extensions proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown are necessary to avoid an “educational Armageddon” that would result in more than 3,300 courses being cut and 46,000 students who would be turned away from the classes they need.

Administrators with the six community college districts and students who spoke at a news conference at Grossmont College on Tuesday urged legislators and California voters to support funding for the system that serves more than 2.7 million students statewide and about 300,000 in San Diego and Imperial counties.

Constance M. Carroll, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, said state funding to the districts has been cut by $73 million in the past two years.

“All of the six districts that are represented here have taken the same massive cuts,” Carroll said. “What’s difficult about the choices that have had to be made is that this is occurring at a time when California has had its largest graduating class in history and when the unemployment rate in San Diego County is at 10.1 percent and 30 percent in Imperial County.”

Brown’s revised budget issued Monday restored some funding to the state’s community colleges due to larger than expected tax revenues of $6.6 billion and a $10 per unit increase in student fees. However, the educators said the tax extensions that Brown wants voters to approve are critical because the additional revenues aren’t sufficient to close a state budget deficit estimated at $9 billion.

Without the tax extensions, the colleges potentially face even deeper budget cuts, doubling the amount of funding they could lose.

Cindy L. Miles, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, said further funding cuts would devastate the East County campuses already hard hit by a $15 million reduction in the past two years. The district stands to lose another $8.1 million this year while struggling to meet the highest demands in the history of its two colleges, Grossmont College in El Cajon and Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego.

Grossmont-Cuyamaca has been forced to cut nearly 800 courses, meaning that 5,000 students will be turned away this summer and in the 2011-2012 school year, Miles said. With further funding cuts, the district would receive $12.9 million less from the state, increasing the class section cuts to 1,000 and turning away as many as 8,000 students.

“We take a glimmer of hope in the governor’s plan in the May revision to stave the cuts that we have been sustaining the last several years,” she said, adding that further cuts “would be nothing short of an educational Armageddon AAArmArmageddon for our institutions, our students and the community.”

“We take a glimmer of hope in the governor’s plan in the May revision to stave the cuts that we have been sustaining in the last several years,” she said, adding that further cuts “would be nothing short of an educational Armageddon for our institutions, our students and the community.”

Robert Deegan, superintendent/president of Palomar College, said more funding cuts would result in a longer time for students to get the courses they need before transferring to universities and would also drastically reduce opportunities for them to acquire skills for good-paying jobs. Presenting a scenario of a highway accident in North County, Deegan noted that the fire truck driver, the paramedic, the sheriff’s deputies, the emergency room nurse and even the doctor treating the injured could have received or started their training at the San Marcos community college.

“The consequences of these cuts would be significant, impacting programs needed by our communities,” he said.

Cheryl Broom, interim director of communications at MiraCosta College, said the college’s two campuses have had to cut $14 million in the past two years, representing about 10 percent of the overall budget at a time of “astronomical” growth.

“In the last four years, demand for higher education has never been greater,” she said. “We have some of the longest waiting lists our colleges have ever seen. It is an incredible role our colleges play in our local economies and the opportunities we provide for students to enjoy wonderful successes in the future.”

Ed Gould, superintendent/president of Imperial Valley College, said the funding cuts of recent years have been particularly hard on a region plagued by economic hardships. The county has an unemployment rate of 36 percent, and has been dubbed the recession capital of the United States.

Cutbacks have forced the cancellation of more than 350 classes and the college expects to turn away nearly 4,300 students this summer and next school year because of funding losses.

“We are the only game in town and we have had to turn away thousands of students,” Gould said. “With high unemployment, people in the valley are looking for alternatives in their careers and we are it.”

Denise Whittaker, interim superintendent/president of Southwestern College, sounded a similar note, saying that the South County campus serves the most diverse population of all the region’s colleges.

“The California Community College system affords those who typically don’t have the opportunity to obtain an education and that is the population these budget cuts hurt the most,” she said. “The community colleges don’t have much more to cut without grossly cutting into the core and heart of our mission to serve our population.”

Several student leaders from the colleges also took the podium, expressing frustration over not being able to get the classes needed to graduate or to transfer.

John Weber, former president of the Grossmont College Student Veterans Organization, said that it is because of community college that he is headed for the University of California at Berkeley in the fall.

“It saddens me deeply that we have servicemen and women who have done their duty in the service of their country who may not have the same opportunities that I have had,” Weber said. “It breaks my heart.”

Nick Serrano, a Southwestern College student, urged students to contact legislators and tell their stories on how the budget cuts are affecting their educational futures.

“Students aren’t able to plan appropriately,” he said. “They don’t have any certainty whether classes will be there there for them, whether financial aid will be there for them. Students are in a current state of unknown.”