Community colleges brace for cuts -- again

Reductions inevitable for Foothill-De Anza, even with $10 million 'rainy day fund'

Due to deep state cuts to public higher education, local community colleges will have to cut back on courses, turn away students and lay off part-time faculty in the coming school year, officials from the Foothill-De Anza Community College District said.

Though it is unclear how much state funding will be cut from the district's budget in the 2011-12 school year, Linda Thor, Foothill-De Anza's chancellor, expects to lose at least $8.5 million.

The state has informed community colleges throughout California that cuts are definitely coming, Thor said. Further reductions could be in the works halfway through the school year, if the state fails to come up with its goal of $4 billion in revenue.

If at least $3 billion in the hoped-for state revenue materializes, there will be no further cuts to Foothill-De Anza beyond the $8.5 million, Thor said. However, in a worst-case scenario, the district will need to compensate for a reduction of about $10.5 million.

Because about 95 percent of the district's revenue comes from the state, all cuts handed down from Sacramento are significant.

According to Kevin McElroy, the district's vice chancellor, Foothill-De Anza is bracing for a total deficit of $22.8 million, which they hope to make up for through class and staffing reductions, borrowing from the individual colleges and through a $10.7 million "rainy day fund."

In the best case scenario, the district is planning to reduce its capacity for full-time students by 6.15 percent, which means about 3,935 fewer students -- full-time and part-time -- would be served in total, said Thor.

In the worst-case scenario, the district would have to pare back its full-time student load by more than 7.5 percent, or about 4,834 full- and part-time students.

Further complicating matters, the district will not know if the worst case scenario will come to pass until December 15, after many students have already enrolled in classes, which could mean that fees would be raised retroactively at Foothill and De Anza colleges, Thor and McElroy said. Any increase would come on top of a $7-per-unit bump that is already built into the governor's budget, starting this fall; the cost for a typical four-unit class will rise from $68 to $92.

Thor estimated that as many as 200 part-time faculty and staff might not be hired back next year; open administrative positions will not be filled whenever possible; and benefits will remain at last year's levels.

If there is any bright side to the gloomy news, Thor said, it is that the Foothill-De Anza board of trustees previously overestimated the severity of future cuts and managed to set aside about $10.7 million to help minimize reductions in 2011-12.

"The district is very fortunate in that our board of trustees had been anticipating more bad times and had established what we called the stability fund, what others might call a rainy day fund," Thor said.

Thor estimates that Foothill-De Anza would use up the majority of the "rainy day fund" next year making up for its deficit.

McElroy, who was appointed vice chancellor of the district last August, has been working in California public schools since 1985.

"In the 26 years that I've been here, I've never seen it this bad," McElroy said of the state's budget situation. He noted that recessions hit state community colleges in 1993 and 2003, but neither caused as much damage as the current recession.

Neither of the previous economic downturns he saw as vice president of administrative services at Coastline Community College in Fountain Valley, Calif., lasted as long as the current slump, McElroy said. The Foothill-De Anza district has been losing state funding since 2008.

"We have cycles," McElroy said. "This is just a really bad cycle."

"The thing that is most troubling for us," Thor said, "is that California had the best higher education system in the country and it's being decimated. Who knows if we'll ever be able to recover from that?"

Thor and McElroy tried to balance optimism with a realistic outlook about the future of their schools and the state's community college system overall.

"I want to stress, we don't want to be discouraging people from coming to our colleges," Thor said. "We are managing the cuts the best we can. We are doing everything we can to be able to serve the community at a level close to what they've been used to."

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Like this comment
Posted by Scale-Back-By-50%
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2011 at 7:30 am

The Community Colleges have grown very large, and fat, while not producing much, in return for the billions they receive in taxpayer funding. The original mission of being a "incubator" for people not ready for 4-year college work has never materialized. The transfer rate for the CCs is about 15%. Coupled with the 50% graduation rate of the 4-year (oops .. 6+year) schools, it's unlikely that even 10% of these who start a CC ever end up with a BS/BA.

The salaries at these schools have become obscene. Coupled with benefits (meaning pensions), the cost of this "education" can not be justified relative to the value returned to the general economy, and the taxpayers who are forced to foot the bill.

The CCs could ride this out by:

1) Cutting salaries across the boards.
2) Reducing benefits
3) Increasing tuition so that the lost subsidies are now paid by the students.
4) Increase the use of distance learning for people of questionable skills.

California has for too long bowed down to the "altar of education"--accepting whatever claims the education industry made, while never holding it accountable. California needs to wake up, recognize that the "golden goose" has laid its last egg, and begin to realign its spending on education, particularly in the area of the CCs, to better support the economy/job market.

There is only so much that the K-12 schools can do to prepare people for the next stage in their lives--be that a transition to "higher education", or entering into the work-a-day world of real life. The CCs could provide better training in technology, and business-related skills .. but there would need to be a realignment of those school's priorities, starting the general population's expectations of its school systems.

The K-12 system is costing the taxpayers between $125K-$150K, per student, for 12-13 years of public education. To add another $4K-$20K/year for higher education, with no expectation of any real results for the economy, is one of the reasons California is in the financial state that it is in.

"Education" that produces results is clearly worth the investment by the taxpayers. "Programs" that produce few results, but generate a lot of spending in the education sector, are not worth the money, and should be terminated. Scaling the CCs back by up to 50% would be a good start to rethinking the CC's role in California's future.

Like this comment
Posted by no steekin' education
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2011 at 11:33 am

cut cut cut


we can let all our high end, knowledge based industries (tech, bio, etc...) move to countries that value education and support it as a competitive economic tool to beat us

yup, makes sense

don't need no steekin' manufacturing jobs, cuz we're a knowledge based economy now

don't need no steekin' education, no smart kids


"wah happened to the knowledge industries? they was here a few years ago?!?!?"

think how Silicon Valley would have been different without a great state school system (jc's, cal state and UC, with the privates, most notably Stanford)?

Biotech: ditto

"Perhaps the strongest thread that runs through the Valley's past and present is the drive to "play" with novel technology, which, when bolstered by an advanced engineering degree and channeled by astute management, has done much to create the industrial powerhouse we see in the Valley today."

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 10, 2011 at 12:35 pm

At $92 for a class - CC in California is still an unbelievable bargain. A comparable CC in other states costs over $500 for a 4 unit class. While I feel for the student being unable to budget (that part is ridiculous), all of our colleges are a great deal.

Like this comment
Posted by no steekin' education
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2011 at 12:44 pm

"all of our colleges are a great deal"

unless you compare it to other first world countries

add in china india bangladesh etc

call it a great deal if you feel better, but less kids and adults thru the system is BAD for you & me

ultimately, we ain't competing against other states, sweetie

we're Americans

support our country support our kids support our future

Like this comment
Posted by Agree with Palo Alto Mom
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 10, 2011 at 2:32 pm

To Palo Alto Mom:

That was my first thought. My gosh..a 4 unit class for less than $ book, of course. So..$150-200..and sell the book back.

Unbelievable bargain.

Full-time is about 30 units per academic year. My gosh again, 2 years of tuition for less than $1600 in tuition? You gotta be kidding me to complain about that. I paid more than that, much more, and thought it was a real bargain at a State school in the south over 30 years ago. And that is without adjusting for "real' dollars now vs then.

There is no room to complain about increases to our CCs. None at all.

Esp in an era when I students are dropping that much just in phone fees, I simply can't relate to any pity.

Like this comment
Posted by no steekin' education
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2011 at 2:41 pm

ladies - first of all, cc's are glorified high schools, they have their place

it ain't college. it's a place for some to get some credits and grades up to, if they choose, go to real school

but you're right anyway, we don't need no steekin' educational opportunities

let 'em work for carls and mickey d

ray kroc and karcher didn't need no steekin' diploma

service jobs for all!!! keep America in the lead!!

as the high paying gigs eventually morph overseas, we won't have no revenue problems down the road, just cut the education system more!!

Like this comment
Posted by Foothill should be saved not chopped
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 10, 2011 at 8:04 pm

As competition to get into the UCs has become worse and worse, in part because of their own budget problems, more and more of our high school graduates go to colleges such as Foothill. They don't take remedial classes there, but enter the transfer track, where after two years of taking higher level classes they can transfer to UC campuses.

If you think we should chop Foothill down, you are thinking we should further shrink opportunities for kids graduating from school districts such as our own Palo Alto. Stupid attitude in my mind.

Like this comment
Posted by P.A. mom & teacher
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2011 at 11:17 pm

The community colleges get a bad rap because they accept almost everyone, and they try to serve a variety of purposes--provide high-level courses for those who want to transfer to a 4-year university, job training for those who want to be auto mechanics or dental hygienists, and important adult ed. classes like English as a Second Language for those new (and not so new) to the U.S. Although these classes may not seem expensive to some of the posters, there are a lot of students who can't afford to go full-time (including some of my former students). They have to work and study part-time, so it takes them much longer. Making it more expensive will only make it more difficult for those who are struggling to get further education and job skills. Whom does that benefit?
According to one previous poster, all the California public colleges are "a great deal." I don't agree. Compare the U.C. tuition (and room and board, for that matter) with in-state tuition in most other states. And it's supposed to go up another 10% this year. (Last year there was an 8% hike.)

Like this comment
Posted by Scale-Back-By-50%
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2011 at 8:27 am

The Legislative Analyst's Office has given the CC's some thought--
Web Link

Prioritizing Course Enrollment at the Community Colleges

State Law Establishes “Open Access” Policy, Identifies Key CCC Missions. Under the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education and state law, the California Community Colleges (CCC) operate as open access institutions. That is, whereas only the top one–third of high–school graduates are eligible for admission to the state’s public universities, all persons 18 or older may attend a community college. (While CCC does not deny admission to students, there is no guarantee of access to a particular class.) Current law defines CCC’s core mission as providing academic and vocational instruction at the lower–division (freshman and sophomore) level. Under this mission, community colleges prepare students for transfer to four–year institutions and grant associate’s degrees and certificates. Other important statutory missions include providing opportunities for workers to update their job skills (such as by taking a computer class) and offering precollegiate basic skills instruction in English and mathematics.

State residents enroll at the community colleges for a variety of reasons. In 2009–10, almost one–half of CCC students indicated that they sought transfer to a four–year institution or to obtain an associate’s degree or certificate. About one–third of students attended CCC for other purposes, such as learning English or taking recreational classes. (The remaining nearly one–fifth of students were “undecided.”)

Need to Rethink CCC Enrollment–Management Policies. In recent years, community college enrollment has been constrained by two major factors: (1) reductions in course–section offerings as a result of state budget cuts, and (2) strong demand for CCC services by adults seeking retraining and other skills at a time of weak state and national economic growth. The CCC system reports that many students—particularly first–time students—have not been able to enroll in the classes they need to progress toward their educational goals. Thus, in effect, CCC enrollments are currently being “rationed.” This access problem will become even more serious in 2011–12 to the extent that budget reductions further reduce enrollment slots.

Given limited resources, we believe that it is more important than ever for the state to target funds that best meet the state’s highest priorities for community college services. To accomplish this, we recommend the Legislature: (1) adopt statewide registration priorities that reflect the Master Plan’s primary objectives, (2) place a limit on the number of taxpayer–subsidized credit units that students may earn, and (3) restrict the number of times that a student may repeat physical education and other classes at taxpayers’ expense.

Full Report:
Web Link

Subsidizing "recreational classes" is clearly something that needs to be stopped. It's also not clear that the CCs should be offering these sorts of classes, given that the total costs of any instruction in a government facility includes capital costs for the buildings, and pension benefits for the staff.

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