Article - Office of College Advancement

Enrollment growth at Ohlone tempered by state economic slide

By Matthew Artz, The Argus.

Monday, November 24, 2008—Reprinted from Inside Bay Area.

Fremont—Ohlone College enrollment increased this fall as the economy slid into recession, but further economic distress could prevent the school from offering enough classes to meet increased demand, district officials said.

The college plans to offer about the same number of courses this spring as it did in the fall, when enrollment increased significantly over the previous fall, College President Gari Browning said.

However, summer course offerings likely will be reduced so the college does not exceed the state's cap on annual enrollment, she said.

Things are bleaker at several other community colleges in the state.

According to an analysis released earlier this month, proposed state budget cuts would force California's 110 community colleges—the only door to higher education for many—to turn away nearly 263,000 would-be students in the current school year.

Because the UC and Cal State systems already are considering offering fewer courses or drastically changing admissions policies because of budget shortfalls, more people are expected to look to community colleges for higher learning.

"We are the safety net of higher education," said Scott Lay, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Community College League of California, which released the analysis.

But proposed midyear cuts of about $332 million from community colleges could tear holes in that net.

With increasing numbers of prospective students applying for community colleges, Lay said, "The concern is it becomes survival of the fittest."

Those likely to be pushed out are "the most socioeconomically and educationally disadvantaged," he said. "They would just have to postpone their economic future."

Ohlone is in decent shape to weather the anticipated state cut, Browning said.

The school has several pots of reserves that could absorb a projected $2.2 million loss in state funding without dipping into its state-mandated reserve fund, she said.

"We're not going to be cutting anything (next semester) or doing layoffs," she said.

Rather than cancel classes next semester, the college is trying to boost efficiency by making sure all sections of a class have been filled before adding a new section.

The plan should account for increased enrollment, although Browning cautioned that students who enroll late might not get the classes they want, depending on demand.

This semester, 13,439 students have enrolled districtwide—up 15 percent from 11,640 last fall.

Typically, community college enrollment increases during sluggish financial times as people decide to return to school to upgrade their skills or prepare for a career change.

But a looming fee increase could temper student enrollment, Browning said.

The state Legislative Analyst's Office has recommended raising community college student fees from $20 a unit to $26 in January and $30 in July.

A previous set of fee hikes from $11 per unit to $26 per unit put a damper on enrollment until the state lowered fees to $20, Browning said.

Community colleges must closely monitor enrollment growth.

The state reimburses the colleges up to a prescribed number of students. If the school exceeds the cap, it doesn't get reimbursed for the additional students, Browning said.

Across the Bay, the San Mateo County district faces midyear cuts of $5.6 million, according to the league's analysis.

But the [San Mateo County] district also has to contend with the investment loss from the Lehman Brothers collapse, Lay said. The district lost more than $28 million when the investment banking firm went bankrupt, according to the county Office of Education.

Ohlone had no exposure to Lehman Brothers or other investment companies that have faltered during the financial crisis, Browning said.

Fremont reporter Matthew Artz can be reached at 510-353-7002 or martz@bayareanewsgroup.com. Read his blog posts at www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat/.

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