Budget Cut Blues, What Happened?

Chair, Educational Policies Committee

As it happens, faculty have not been the only ones concerned about the effect budget cuts have had on student access, and system Vice-Chancellor Patrick Perry prepared a presentation for the Board of Governors for the September 2010 meeting that analyzed demographic changes in the 2009-10 academic year: End Of Year (2009-2010) Analysis Of Changes In CCC System: Students, Courses, And FTES.1

So, what happened?

  • The CCC system lost students, from a high in 2008-09 of 2,898,126, to 2,758,081 in 2009-10, a 4.8% decline, though 2009-10 is still the second highest enrolled academic year in the system’s history.
  • 2009-10 was the first academic year in which students recorded their ethnicity according to new federal categories, so comparability to previous years is uncertain; nevertheless, two categories of students showed an increase by ethnicity: “decline to state” (which increased from 12.8% to 16%) and Hispanics, which increased modestly from 29.6% to 29.7%. By contrast, the percentage of Asian, African-American, and white students all declined slightly (by .5%, .5%, and .7% respectively). Hispanic students, as Patrick Perry notes, “are near convergence in the CCC system.”
  • While males are still a minority in California community colleges, their presence in the 2009-10 cohort (45.1%) is consistent with gradual growth over the previous few years toward parity.
  • Students younger than 17 and older that 35 declined in the system by 1.4% in both categories; the decline in students under 17 could reflect fewer spaces for high school students who are allowed to enroll only on a space-available basis, suggested also by a decline in K-12 special admit students from 6% to 5.1%.
  • Students describing themselves as degree seeking increased from 45.5% to 48.4%, a fairly significant increase.
  • Especially relevant in light of the resolution, first-time students declined from 32.5% to 30.6% and continuing students increased from 38.8% to 42.9%, another relatively substantial increase.
  • The number of course sections offered declined by 38,261 (9%) but the average section size increased to 31.14 students, the first time the system has seen an average class size over 30 students and an increase of 15.6% since 2006-07.
  • Remarkably, in light of the number of sections cut and the decline in headcount, the number of credit FTES increased.
  • Patrick Perry’s data also examine the kinds of courses (time of day, students served) that were more or less likely to be cut and the disciplines that increased or declined. The report is short and well worth reading beyond the details gleaned here.

What can we infer from this quick overview? On the whole, colleges seem to have seen the opposite of “an influx of new students.” New students didn’t appear and continuing students increased significantly as a percentage of students on community college campuses. In terms of the ethnic diversity of our students, while Asian, African American, and white students declined modestly, Hispanic students increased at an even greater percentage. The increasing growth of both male and Hispanic students toward equitable representation on community college campuses is a promising sign.

Patrick Perry’s summary is silent on the fact that the reduction of 38,261 sections probably represents an enormous blow to the ability of our part-time colleagues to make ends meet, and anecdotal data suggest that many part-time faculty are giving up on community college teaching careers and looking elsewhere. The impact on colleges of the loss of long-serving part-time faculty is deserving of a study on its own merits.

The fact that FTES have increased even when so many sections have been cut indicates that the faculty who remain are making significant sacrifices to accommodate students in already bulging classrooms. The number of unfunded FTES in the California Community College System is simultaneous evidence of the willingness of faculty and colleges to serve students and an indication to the Legislature that we can do more with less, which is not a sign that bodes well for restored funding.

What does it mean?

The most plausible explanation for the persistence of our students and their not being displaced by the anticipated wave of CSU and UC eligible students flowing into our colleges is the widespread, if not universal, use of priority registration systems that provide earlier access to class enrollment for continuing students. As a short-term explanation, this is both convincing and reassuring. As Patrick Perry notes, however, at some point our continuing students will complete their certificates or degrees or will transfer; while our colleges may have lost those students who were perhaps even “admitted” to our colleges but ultimately unable to enroll in any classes. We know who we retained; we do not know who we lost through lack of space. And we cannot guess the cost to California’s moral and economic climate to those students who sought to continue their educations but were not able to find a seat at a UC, CSU or California community college campus.