Community colleges at risk
California’s current budget deficit is staggering in scale and will hang over us like an ugly storm cloud for the next few years. It will require all of us to pitch in to rebuild our economy, and the state’s community colleges are willing to take their fair share of budget reductions. The shocking part of the governor’s budget proposal that was unveiled on Jan. 10 is that California’s community colleges, including Sierra College, are being asked to take a larger cut than any other educational system. Here are some of the facts.
California’s community colleges are already funded well below K-12 and the university systems. We only get paid for a certain number of students, or a “cap” that is predetermined by the state, and are reimbursed 40 percent less than the university system. Not only does K-12 get reimbursed for every student, their reimbursement rates are also higher. The latest proposal by the governor would drop Sierra’s already low funding by an additional $658 per student.
The proposed budget unfairly targets the community college system: K-12 will receive an increase of 1.6 percent next year; the UC System will receive an increase of 2.6 percent; and CSU will receive an increase of 2.5 percent. In contrast, California’s community colleges will receive a decrease of 10.37 percent!
Because the community colleges are the state’s No. 1 job trainer, the proposed budget is a job killer. The governor’s goal of 500,000 new jobs in four years will be impossible to achieve if the cuts proposed for the community colleges are sustained. This is particularly true for the Sierra College District, which serves one of the fastest-growing populations in the state and the nation.
While the governor is calling for job growth to close the deficit gap, his budget proposal will result in thousands of faculty and staff layoffs in California’s community colleges. Over 80 percent of district spending supports faculty and staff salaries and benefits. The proposed level of cuts simply cannot be accommodated without massive layoffs throughout the community college system.
The governor’s budget proposes a 10 percent midyear reduction in funding for community colleges with less than half the school year remaining. These cuts cannot be made this late in the year without an immediate elimination of classes and student support services. For Sierra College this means we will have to cut an astounding $3.2 million from our budget between now and June 30.
The most painful aspect of the governor’s budget proposal is that it will end the State Master Plan promise of quality accessible higher education being available to all. In essence, it will close the doors to those who are most in need of a college education. The budget proposes to cut support services for disabled and economically disadvantaged students by 43 percent. From my perspective, this is unconscionable.
Once again, the community college system understands that it has to help solve the current state budget deficit problem. Our plea, on behalf of all of the students who will be denied access to a college education if the governor’s budget proposal is enacted, is that the reduction in funding to the community colleges is proportionate to K-12 and the UC and CSU systems.
If you would like to share your views on this disturbing situation, you will find the names, addresses, and phone numbers of elected officials in the blue government Listings section of the phone book.
Tina Ludutsky-Taylor is provost of Sierra College’s Nevada County Campus in Grass Valley.
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