Class cuts leave community college students in limbo

Thousands of students in the San Mateo County Community College District are anxiously awaiting word on whether they will get into the shrinking number of classes this fall, the consequence of several years of deep budget cuts, according to administrators.

About 15,000 students — more than half the total enrollment of the three colleges that make up the district — are on a waitlist for at least one class, officials say. That’s up from an estimated 12,000 to 13,000 who were wait-listed at this time last year.
During the past two years, the district has lost about $25 million in funding out of its roughly $100 million budget, in large part due to state cuts, Chancellor Ron Galatolo said.

As a result, the district was forced to cut the hours of its part-time faculty and slash class offerings at Skyline College in San Bruno, College of San Mateo and Cañada College in Redwood City.

“This is at a time when the economy is doing poorly, people are unemployed and they’re coming back for either a job retraining or employment opportunities, or frankly just to pursue their academic dreams,” Galatolo said. “Unfortunately, we’re closing the doors to students.”

Since the semester started Aug. 16, there are 26,188 students enrolled in the district, down about 3.4 percent from last year, although officials don’t take the official count until the fourth week of school.

The colleges are offering 2,319 class sections this fall, compared to 2,611 last year, said Barbara Christensen, the district’s director of government and community relations.

“I think our faculty have really stepped up and are taking as many students as they possibly can in their classes,” Christensen said.

In June, voters gave the district a boost when they passed a $34-per-year parcel tax that will raise about $6 million annually for four years. It’s the first community college district in California to have its own parcel tax.

Galatolo said that money will be used almost entirely to rehire faculty this year and open more class sections, which “helps stop the bleeding,” but doesn’t make up for the other lost funding and any new cuts when the state budget is approved.

The college district accepts every student that applies, Galatolo said, but can’t guarantee classes for all of them at a time when the University of California and California State University systems are turning away students.

“It’s really scary out there right now,” Galatolo said.

School’s out

Even as enrollments have been climbing in recent years, the San Mateo County Community College District has had to cut class sections due to budget slashing, making it harder for students to get into classes. The following shows enrollment tallies through the years at each campus in the district:

2010:*
Skyline: *26,188

2009    
Cañada: 7,496
CSM: 11,679    
Skyline: 10,146
Total: 29,321
Change: 7.7%

2008
Cañada: 6,561
CSM: 11,215
Skyline: 9,449
Total: 27,225
Change: 3.1%

2007
Cañada: 6,589
CSM: 11,083
Skyline: 8,722
Total: 26,394
Change: 5.4%

2006
Cañada: 6,179
CSM: 10,634
Skyline: 8,229
Total: 25,042
Change: -1.1%

2005
Cañada: 6,099
CSM: 10,998
Skyline: 8,225
Total: 25,322
Change: -0.4%

* 2010 total count is after two weeks of school; official fall count will take place after four weeks   

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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