California community colleges prepare for possible budget woes

Gregory D. Cook
February 17, 2010
Filed under News

Although Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed state budget does not cut community college funding as deeply as last year’s did, the Kern Community College District is still preparing for possible worst-case scenarios.

“We would love to have the governor’s proposed budget,” said Greg Chamberlain, president of Bakersfield College. “But I do not believe his budget will pass.

“If the proposed budget makes it through the process and gets approved, Bakersfield College would be very pleased. There would still have to be some cuts, but they would not be as substantial.”

The proposed state budget, released by Gov. Schwarzenegger on Jan. 8, still calls for cuts to community college funding and programs, but there are a few bright points. Overall, there would be a $224 million increase in higher education funding over last year’s budget. Under the proposed state budget, student enrollment fees would remain at $26 per unit, and $126 million would be used to fund enrollment growth. This could mean a raise of up to 2.2 percent in the enrollment cap.

“We have a maximum number of students that the state will fund us to educate,” said Chamberlain. “Right now, we are a couple of thousand students above that cap. We are educating more students than we are being funded for.”

Chamberlain said that there is room for growth in the proposed budget. “His [Schwarzenegger’s] budget would bump that cap up a little bit,” he said. He explained that although course sections have been reduced over the last year, Bakersfield College is still “trying to meet the needs of the students as best we can.”

The proposed budget would also cut $10 million from part-time faculty compensation and another $10 million from extended opportunity programs and services (EOPS), a state-funded program providing financial aid and counseling to students from low-income, educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. Another provision of the budget would give individual community college districts greater flexibility as to how programs like EOPS are funded.

Also on the list of cuts is the competitive Cal Grant program. The program provides grants of up to $1,550 to 22,500 students per year that are starting college more than one year after they finished high school. Cutting the program, which the budget calls “duplicative of other Cal Grant programs,” frees up $45.5 million in the budget.

The proposed budget will now go to the state legislature for review, and recommended changes will be suggested to the governor’s office. By May 14, the governor is required to submit a revised budget to the legislature, and it is this revised budget that will go before both houses of the legislature for final approval by June 15.

Revisions to last year’s proposed budget reduced community college funding up to 40 percent in some areas, causing numerous cuts to class sections and programs. That is why KCCD chancellor Sandra Serrano is asking the three colleges of the district to continue to prepare for the worst.

In an e-mail, Serrano asked college presidents to continue to make plans for a 15 percent budget reduction for the 2010-11 school year with the hope of reinstating some of those reductions if the budget proves to be favorable.

“The KCCD governing board believes that it is fiscally prudent for each of us to continue planning to reduce our budget in alignment with our mission,” Serrano stated in her e-mail. “And therefore, emerge leaner and stronger.”

“What we are trying to do is shift our resources in a way to handle our core mission of transfer, career and technical education and basic skills,” said Chamberlain. “So while we may see reductions in some areas, and emphasis shifted from some courses to other areas, we have not proposed anything beyond that.”

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