Article - Office of College Advancement

State budget crisis means less funding for community college programs designed to help people find work

Training hits hard times

By Sarah Duxbury.

Friday, August 6, 2010—Reprinted from San Francisco Business Times.

Leta Stagnaro.“We have a backlog of folks trying to get into the community college program,” says Leta Stagnaro of Ohlone College in Fremont. “The unemployment rate is a big factor.” —Photo by Spencer Brown.

These are dark days for community college job training programs. And as stimulus funding sunsets, the days will only get darker.

Bay Area community colleges essentially exist to train the local workforce.

Some job training programs are paid for by specific, targeted federal grants. That money, stimulus funds allocated through county workforce investment boards, continues to flow — for now.

Most job training, however, happens through the colleges’ regular certificate, degree and other academic programs such as nursing or biomanufacturing. Those programs have been jeopardized by the state’s budget crisis and the funding cuts that hit in earnest last year.

The problem of drastically reduced funding is compounded by increased student interest.

“We have a backlog of folks trying to get into the community college program,” said Leta Stagnaro, Ohlone College’s [emphasis added] assistant vice president for health sciences and technology, entrepreneurial programs. “The unemployment rate is a big factor.”

Ohlone has had to cut its summer course offerings by half, and the current situation is the worst Stagnaro has seen in her 12 years at the Fremont college.

Those who are certified for a new career face a job market where they are competing against high school graduates and four-year college graduates for a very limited supply of open jobs.

A Newark company, PetersenDean Roofing and Solar Systems, has hired a few solar installers trained by Ohlone, but nursing graduates have been unable to find work, Stagnaro said. This is the first time in years that nurses can’t find work, she added, blaming fewer elective surgeries and the fact that older nurses have postponed retirement during the recession.

Ohlone is not unique.

“A different aspect of the impact is that we are slower to implement new programs. For example, our residential efficiency program: We are not able to institutionalize it as quickly as would have hoped,” said Peter Crabtree, dean of Laney College’s vocational technology division, regarding a recent “green jobs” pilot funded by the Bechtel Foundation. “We were able to pay for the pilot program, but we are not able to add many of the courses into the regular schedule, and certainly not as quickly as we would like to.”

The Peralta Colleges have seen student demand for classes increase about 50 percent and have been forced to turn away students.

“One of the issues with career development programs is that we need to respond to business and industry, and the landscape is changing. Changing relatively quickly,” Crabtree said. “We as educators need to keep the curriculum moving, adding or taking away courses. We are in a situation where we are net cutting courses, so it’s harder to get new courses into the schedule.”

That means the community colleges are finding it difficult to create and offer the certificate courses and degrees in new fields that may be hiring.

“We need to keep the framework around what we can do, and not what we used to do,” Stagnaro said.

Happily, there are stimulus-funded training programs ongoing. They are now the lifeblood of training programs since the community colleges cannot do much until the state approves a budget.

The Alameda County Workforce Investment Board is funding several training programs at Ohlone with stimulus money, including a Microsoft Office program, a desktop technician certification and an introduction to computers course designed for displaced Nummi workers.

San Francisco partners with City College for its three job training academies, one in construction called City Build, one called TrainGreen SF and a Health Care Academy. These are supported by federal, not city, funding, which means that so far, they are intact.

“We’re not hamstrung by the financial crisis just yet,” said Rhonda Simmons, San Francisco’s director of workforce development. “I imagine we will start to feel it in the next year or two as the stimulus money goes away. If there’s no reauthorization of that funding, we will have less ability to run these programs, especially if the city is still in a deficit.”

San Francisco’s office of workforce development has $7 million in stimulus funding that ends in June 2011.

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