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Community colleges struggle with higher enrollment and fewer funds
On the first day of school at Modesto Junior College, there were 1,432 courses that had wait lists with 25,783 names on those lists.
If students at community colleges think the classrooms are crowded now, just wait till they see what it looks like a few years from now. At the same time that state funding for community colleges has decreased, the enrollment is rising at a rapid rate.
A new report from the California Postsecondary Education Commission is predicting an increase in community college enrollment over the next 10 years that without increased state funding, will push some colleges over the brink and severely challenge California’s promise of offering a college education to all.
The report titled “Ready or Not, Here They Come,” projects the enrollment at the state’s 110 community colleges will continue to expand over the next 10 years and by 2019 there will be 222,000 additional students above the current enrollment level.
“These are conservative projections — the problem could actually be worse,” said John Perez, chair of California’s Postsecondary Education Commission. “This could impact many Californians. It’s a problem, not just for workers who need community colleges for job training, but also for high school graduates who can’t afford to start their education at a four-year university.”
The commission made two sets of projections. One was a baseline projection that relied solely on population growth, and the other, a mid-range projection, used recent trends in enrollment patterns.
“The mid-range projection is more likely,” said Karen Humphrey, the executive director of the California Postsecondary Education Commission. “In the past few years, we have seen an increasing percentage of Californians wanting to enroll at community colleges, and we expect this trend to continue.”
In 2008-09 the enrollment at the 110 community college campuses reached its highest level ever at 2.9 million, a 5 percent increase from the year prior.
To catch up to the rising enrollment the state would need to allocate funding for at least a 3 percent enrollment growth annually, according to the commission. The state is currently not providing any funding for enrollment growth.
The crunch on the community college system is certainly being felt on the Modesto Junior College campus. More people are returning to the halls of MJC in search of new job skills and more incoming students are starting their college careers at community colleges because of tuition increases at both the California State University and University of California systems, said MJC spokesperson Linda Hoile. That has the college running over their capacity, Hoile said.
Last year, the college had a fall enrollment of 20,421 students. This year’s enrollment census has yet to be completed, but of the 1,476 courses being offered, 91 percent were completely full on the first day, Hoile said.
There were 1,432 courses that had wait lists for the fall semester and there were 25, 783 names on those lists, Hoile said.
MJC had to cut $2.4 million from their 2009-10 budgets, which led to the cancellation of 180 classes from the fall semester.
“It’s very dismaying to not be able to meet the educational needs of our community,” Hoile said. “The demand is high, but the supply is low.”
The California Postsecondary Education Commission advises the governor and the legislature on higher education policy and fiscal issues.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.