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In response to state budget cuts, California community colleges prepare to ration their course offerings like water in a drought

 
The Sacramento Bee
 
Now in his third year at Yuba College, a year he once hoped to spend in Chico or Davis, Robert Bond said every student he knows has struggled to get the classes they need.

"My first semester here, no math classes were open, so I couldn't get a math class," Bond, 20, lamented on the Yuba campus quad, decked in a sweat shirt and shorts on an unseasonably warm afternoon. "Basically it took me two years until I could get a math class, college-level Math 52. So I'm like way behind."

Faced with state budget cuts since the recession – annual funding is now 12 percent below its 2008-09 high-water mark – community colleges have pared back course offerings. Yet demand remains sky high as costs at four-year universities shoot upward and unemployed Californians seek retraining.

Community college leaders say it has become necessary to ration classroom seats like water in a drought. They plan to impose statewide rules that prioritize students working toward a degree, certificate or basic academic skills. To meet that end, students who make little progress or take classes for enrichment purposes will move to the back of the line.

The hope, says California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott, is that new students won't get locked out. State leaders want to increase the percentage of students who graduate or transfer to universities, rates that suffer when students can't register for classes.

"It was never my wish to ration attendance at community colleges, but this was forced upon us by the very severe budget cuts," Scott said. "The reality is, we just can't offer everything to everybody."

State lawmakers two years ago required the California Community Colleges to address low completion rates, and the colleges' Board of Governors this month approved a 22-point Student Success Task Force plan. The board can move ahead with some aspects of the plan this fall, while others require legislation. Lawmakers will evaluate the proposal Wednesday.
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