Saturday, January 25, 2014

Colleges start spring semester in growth mode

Spring semester begins Monday at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges with more class offerings, instructors and students than last year as the college district continues an upward trend, thanks to a slow, but steady growth in the state economy.

The East County colleges are continuing along a restorative vein, attributable to an improved economic climate and ongoing support from Proposition 30, a temporary sales tax and, for wealthier Californians, income tax hike approved by voters in November 2012. The revenue enhancements reflect an upward tick, with the governor’s proposed 2014-15 budget calling for a modest increase in mandatory education funding for public schools and community colleges, as well as additional dollars to restore student access and one-time funding for student success programs.

The added dollars to the district coffers mean a projected enrollment growth of just less than 3 percent from last spring, from a total of 27,647 students to an anticipated 28,430. Course sections for spring reflect growth as well, with this semester’s classes totaling 2,413 compared to 2,058 last spring -- an increase of about 17 percent.

During the years of the state budget crisis that began in 2008, the number of full-time faculty members in the district dropped from 325 to 266. With the improved budget situation, the district has been able to hire eight faculty members and is recruiting or in the process of filling 25 positions, including a physics instructor at Cuyamaca and digital media/journalism instructor at Grossmont College.

“We have much to look forward to this year, as we stay focused on our primary mission – the learning and success of our students – and celebrate their return next week,” Chancellor Cindy Miles said. “As the recent White House Summit on College Opportunity shows, the national discussion is turning to college as the gateway to the middle class and the importance of ensuring access for those with the greatest needs.”

More than half the students in the district are on financial aid, even with California community colleges being the most affordable institutions of higher education in the country. Two-thirds are unprepared for the rigors of college academics, making the additional dollars proposed in Sacramento for student success initiatives all the more important, Miles said.

While the current picture shows a marked departure from the doom and gloom of recent semesters, the fortified dollars for education do not return the district to prerecession levels. Four consecutive years of debilitating funding cuts starting in 2008 totaled $16 million to the district, forcing the colleges to slash 1,600 classes and to turn thousands of students away.
“We’ve got a ways to go, but thankfully, we are starting out strong,” Miles said. “With legislative revisions and a clearer revenue picture, our hopes are high that the final budget targeted for the end of June will smile upon our community colleges.”

On a separate front, work is progressing on Proposition V, the district’s successful East County ballot measure from November 2012 that brings $398 million to the colleges to address longstanding facility, infrastructure, technology needs, veterans’ services and workforce training. The district’s updated facilities master plan, with a more detailed look at the placement of new facilities, was approved last year and the district is currently nearing completion of design guidelines, space standards, and material and systems standards – required elements that will guide all Prop. V building projects.

 “We are confident that these facilities and infrastructure  improvements will allow us to continue providing a high-quality education to our students, while we remain focused on the bottom line to ensure we spend every dollar wisely,” said Governing Board President Bill Garrett.