Chancellor shares concerns for state’s Community College system

Chancellor Jack Scott addresses the state of California’s Community Colleges at Pasadena City College. (Courtesy Pasadena City College)

MaryAnne C. Shults

California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott held a town hall meeting at Pasadena City College late last month to discuss the current budget crisis and offer feasible public actions to students, administration and faculty in attendance.

His visit came on the heels of what could be a devastating move two days earlier by the California State University system to drastically cut enrollment by limiting transfers from community colleges, beginning in spring 2013.

“We’re seeing what I would call a death by a thousand cuts,” Scott, who is retiring in September, said. “That’s not good news for the state.”

Scott said the latest blow dealt to higher education will mean another 16,000 community college students will not be able to transfer to a CSU.

“Last month, we had the February surprise-a $149 million cut we didn’t expect,” Scott said. “Now we have the March surprise, a cruel reality that CSU can afford to take only a handful of our transfer students next spring.”

CSU will consider only community college students who have earned the new Associate Degree for Transfer, established by Senate Bill 1440 last year. Only a handful of students will be allowed admission to eight state campuses including Channel Islands, Chico, East Bay, Fullerton, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Bernardino and Sonoma.

“It’s sad to think we’re looking at a group of students who are thirsty for higher education, all of which would enrich their life and enrich the economy of California,” Scott said. “Because of a lack of state resources, we’re having to limit it.”

Scott said this will impact students already in the community college system as well as new students trying to get in. Many of those who are eligible for transfer in the spring are likely to remain at community colleges, further crowding out recent high school graduates and the unemployed who are turning to the two-year system for job training skills.

The day of the CSU announcement, Saddleback College President Tod Burnett was coincidently addressing college employees at his annual President’s Chat. In his most recent blog posting in the “Gaucho Gazette,” he said the audience voiced concerns how this would affect the students.

“The sad news is that higher education cutbacks have already begun to affect our student,” Burnett said. “Our highly-qualified transfer prospects are finding it increasingly difficult to get into a CSU or UC.”

On a positive note, Burnett added that Saddleback has secured new Transfer Admission Guarantee agreements to both CSU and University of California.

“Our top feeder school, CSU Fullerton, is one of the few still accepting spring transfers,” Burnett said.

As far as impacts for Saddleback College students, the CSU enrollment cuts could definitely bring a higher demand for classes, yet the college has been in a no-growth mode for some time now, according to the college’s spokesperson Jennie McCue.

“As you know, current students have priority registration and they are encouraged to enroll as soon as possible, because the higher demand means that students will no longer have the luxury of waiting to get into their classes,” McCue said. “The reality is that the state budget situation is such that we are not in a position to offer more classes.”

McCue added that because math and English classes, in particular, are expected to fill quickly, current students are encouraged to enroll in those classes as soon as possible.

“Students should not delay taking them,” McCue said, “as they will be more difficult to get as new students apply to the college and will compete to enroll in those same classes.”

In light of the effect on all community college students throughout the state, Scott said one viable solution to help ease some of the financial losses is Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax-hike initiative.

To help balance the budget and raise money for education, Brown’s initiative would raise state sales tax by .25 percent per dollar for the next four years and levy those with incomes higher than $250,000 for seven years.

Scott said passing of the initiative, although it won’t completely replace money lost in the past, in will be a “step in the right direction.”

“I want to make it clear that I’ll be very supportive of that tax initiative because it’ll mean $3 to $4-million dollars more to community colleges,” Scott said. “And if it doesn’t pass, it might mean another big cut to community colleges.”

He added that taxes are the “price of civilization,” and that the public cannot ignore that fact.

“The idea that some way or another we can just simply turn our backs and not pay for things,” Scott said, “It’s not that way folks.”

All three segments of California’s higher education would be subject to midyear cuts if the Governor’s proposed tax increases are rejected by voters in November. General purpose funds for the California Community Colleges would be cut by almost $300 million, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

California’s 112 community college system serves about 2.6 million students, the largest higher education system in the U.S. Since 2008, the system has suffered losses totaling over $800 million.

Scott, former president at Pasadena and Cypress Colleges, and 12-year California legislator, encouraged a call to action. He advocated personal communication with legislators.

“When a legislator says, ‘Oh, I love the community colleges’ and so forth, ask him or her how they voted on raising taxes,” Scott said. “Don’t get belligerent or harsh and try to occupy his or her office, but go in and make your case.”

He also encouraged the students in the audience to vote, as they hold the power to resuscitate their education system.

“Don’t give up because your education is your key to mobility,” Scott said. He added studies show the better educated one is, the better he or she will do in life.

Scott wrapped up his address by reiterating the California Dream.

“We should be working together to rebuild California and making it a better place for our children,” Scott said. “Dreams are necessary to live. If we keep dashing college dreams and denying opportunities for Californians, we’re going to lose our best and brightest to other states which will only further exacerbate our state’s economic situation.”