Central Valley

Community colleges cutting classes, faculty

Community college students can expect fewer instructors, fewer classes and more competition for registration this fall.

With demand for classes swelling, community colleges will reduce the number and types of classes offered for the 2009-10 school year to cope with less funding from the state.

Students are flocking to Modesto Junior College and Columbia College -- because money is tight and attending a community college instead of a four-year university is more economical, because fewer students were admitted to University of California and California State University campuses, or because they've been laid off and seek job training classes.

For the fall semester, MJC will chop 110 sections from its offerings, reducing its usual 1,800-class buffet by 6 percent, said Gary Whitfield, vice president of college and administrative services.

With two days of planning time, departments cut the same percent of courses across the board, he said.

Fall registration started June 2.

But for the spring semester, officials will be more strategic in where they cut. Classes with small enrollments or those not needed for transfer to a four-year university will be considered first.

"Reducing offerings really hits students," Whitfield said. "In these economic times, we're the best value for the money, and now we're having to cut."

Part-time instructors will be the hardest hit by the reductions in class offerings. At some colleges, they make up about two-thirds of faculty ranks and don't earn medical benefits.

MJC officials hope to trim $2.3 million from the college's $53 million annual budget.

Columbia College has to trim $600,000. President Joan Smith used $300,000 in leftover funds and then did not fill two instructing and two classified positions to close the gap.

Some courses with waiting lists that usually add sections won't do that this school year, Smith said.

"Things could still change. We're focusing on planning. 2010-11 is projected to be worse," he said.

"We're positioned to serve more (students) than ever before (because of demand) but we're not getting funding growth."

And if legislators do away with Cal Grants, one of the largest streams of free financial aid for the state's college students, and raise student fees, some students would be shut out of a college education, Smith and Whitfield said.

Legislators are mulling over increasing fees from $20 a unit to $26, and even $60.

"Sixty dollars would be devastating. It's unconscionable. Twenty-six or 30 would still be challenging," Smith said.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

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