Article - Office of College Advancement

Colleges try to delay the pain, but some students hurting

By Matt Krupnick, Contra Costa Times.

Thrusday, September 9, 2009—Reprinted from Inside Bay Area: The Argus.

Ohlone College EOPS counselor Mzao Waters, left, helps student Georgette Hernandez with a financial aid problem on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009 in Fremont, Calif. —(Aric Crabb/Staff, Bay Area News Group)

Community college leaders know the other shoe will drop. Many are trying to control when—and who it will crush.

California's 110 community colleges have been ordered to cut enrollment this year, despite record numbers of students packing classrooms. Some have tried to delay the cuts, hoping the state budget will improve.

The Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, for example, is taking students this year for whom the state will not pay. The district is enrolling the equivalent of 600 unfunded students, Chancellor Joel Kinnamon said.

"Any of our community colleges, if they added classes, there would be students to fill them," he said.

Economic troubles send throngs of students to community colleges, where job training is among the responsibilities. Enrollment surges often correspond with state budget problems, making it difficult for campuses to serve additional students.

Many college leaders do not want to relive the problems that budget cuts caused six years ago, said Paul Steenhausen, a higher-education analyst with the state Legislative Analyst's Office. Colleges turned students away at the door then, he said.

"Some of the districts I've spoken to believe that really hurt them," he said.

Leaders of the three-college Contra Costa district are phasing in enrollment cuts over the next year, also hoping they can avoid cutting classes en masse. However, with classes likely to fill faster than ever, the spring semester is going to be rough for some students in particular, Chancellor Helen Benjamin said.

"The ones who are more savvy at using the system are the ones who are going to get in," she said. "It affects the students who have the most difficulties and those who have language barriers."

Community colleges have long toiled to serve several kinds of students: the unemployed, retirees, non-English speakers, students hoping to transfer to universities, even high-school students looking for college-level coursework. The latest economic problems have essentially forced educators to decide who gets left out.

Meeting in counselor office.Ohlone College EOPS coordinator Sandy Bennett, left, and counselor Mzao Waters, center, help student Georgette Hernandez with a financial aid problem on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009, in Fremont, Calif. —(Aric Crabb/Staff, Bay Area News Group)

With state universities limiting enrollment, many students unable to get into classes there are enrolling at community colleges. At the same time, the state has slashed funding for programs that target low-income and underprepared students.

One of the hardest-hit areas has been Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, widely known as EOPS. The program serves the lowest-income students, providing bus passes, meal vouchers and textbook discounts.

Colleges are cutting as much as half of their EOPS budgets this year. At Fremont's Ohlone College [emphasis added], administrators have dropped meal vouchers for about 500 students, said Debbie Trigg, the program's director.

"It could mean the difference between eating and not eating all day," she said. "These are people who really don't have much in the way of resources."

Ohlone nursing student Xotica Xstasy, 46, said she was forced to borrow money for textbooks from a relative after EOPS cut down on its subsidy. The same went for 20-year-old Ohlone student Ahmad Raufi, who had trouble finding $300 for two chemistry books.

"It's pretty hard for me because I don't have much money," said Raufi, a full-time student. "I'm already broke, and I'm getting broker."

With federal stimulus money unlikely to be renewed next year, college leaders are wary.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Terrence Burgess, president of San Diego City College and board chairman of the Community College League of California. "This is the mother of all recessions."

[ View Articles Index. ]

Related Links at Ohlone College