State

MJC must slash $7M by end of '11 academic year

Debbie May didn't have much difficulty getting her classes at Modesto Junior College this year, even though officials trimmed course sections.

That's because she's attended MJC for four years and is high on the registration priority list. Her daughter, on the other hand, is newer to the community college and had to sit on six waiting lists.

The younger May got into two of the six classes.

"It's a huge battle," Debbie May said.

She'll graduate this month with an associate degree in behavior and social science.

As community college leaders slash spending, students are noticing the results -- fewer classes, larger classes, fewer part-time instructors, fewer support programs and resources.

More cuts are on the way, with MJC preparing to slice $7 million in spending by the end of the next academic year.

Students felt the pinch when the school trimmed 6 percent -- 110 sections -- from the fall semester's courses. They couldn't get into classes, and many MJC sections started waiting lists for the first time.

"I wish we had more math and science classes. Those are packed," said Jacob Yakow, who's studying civil engineering at MJC.

Most of the spending reductions have been accomplished without employee layoffs, which officials attribute to conservative budgeting in 2008.

"During 2008-09, we were very diligent. We saw the state's plans and started pulling back early on," said Teresa Scott, Yosemite Community College District executive vice chancellor of fiscal services.

Still, positions that become vacant do not get filled. And officials are reducing the number of classes part-time instructors teach.

Cuts to hit summer term

Though MJC officials don't anticipate cutting the fall or spring semester offerings much more for the upcoming school year, summer terms will be greatly reduced. Instead of offering about three terms during the summer, MJC will hold about one.

Officials also are looking at the athletics program to see where trims can be made -- temporarily, it's hoped, said Gary Whitfield, MJC's vice president of college and administrative services.

MJC did not print class schedules this year. They were available only online. Though students understand the move, it was tough for many who don't have a computer at home, Yakow said.

Columbia College has chopped so much from its budget that the smaller college might have to start severing basic programs, President Joan Smith said. That further limits students' options because of Columbia's isolation in the foothills.

"We're hitting up against not being a comprehensive college," she said. "We're at a tipping point now."

Despite the budget constraints, officials are committed to serving as many students as possible. Like many community colleges across the state, MJC and Columbia are enrolling more students than the state funds.

MJC and Columbia are enrolling more than 500 students each beyond what the state gives them money for. The colleges would receive about $4.6 million for those students in a normal year.

"We know we won't be funded for these students, but access is so critical," YCCD's Scott said.

"Instructors are being creative. They've moved to larger classrooms and moved desks around to fit more students," Smith said.

Columbia needs to cut $1.8 million from its budget by June 2011. Identified cuts include reductions to the Oakdale and Calaveras site budgets and the Baker Station program, as well as staff vacancies.Because of a freeze on hiring, full-time faculty positions have decreased by 16 percent over two years, Smith said.

Support services decrease

Support programs such as financial aid, disabled students services and counseling have taken crippling hits. The state has reduced funding by more than 40 percent over the past few years when more students need the services.

Financial aid offices at MJC and Columbia are serving three times as many students as usual, Scott said.

Both colleges are shifting money from their general funds to keep the support programs alive.

MJC's May said she noticed fewer resources in her support programs. She is eligible for vouchers to help pay for textbooks and saw those decrease for students this year.

"They've cut them back so far we're struggling to keep programs going," MJC's Whitfield said.

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

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