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California Community Colleges chancellor: budget cuts a ‘tragedy’

Posted on: Aug 27, 2010 1:00:00 AM
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Contact: Della Elliott

California Community Colleges chancellor: budget cuts a ‘tragedy’

Cuyamaca College site of visit by head of largest college system in nation

EL CAJON – Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District Chancellor Cindy Miles welcomed California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott to Cuyamaca College Thursday for a candid discussion with the region’s community college and business leaders  on topics ranging from the budget crisis to a bill just passed that smooths the transition from the two-year campuses to state universities.

He spoke with passion about his years working in the higher-education arena, first as an educator and administrator, then as a legislator, and currently as the head of the largest college system in the nation.

“Sometimes in the midst of dealing with crisis, we forget what a wonderful mission we have…112 colleges, 2.8 million students,” Scott said. “We are in the business of transforming lives and it is one of the most satisfying things to engage in, seeing students come away with dreams fulfilled, with knowledge and skills they are going to use the rest of their lives.”

He praised the work of Grossmont College and Cuyamaca colleges in addressing students’ needs in these challenging times. Community colleges throughout the state are facing higher enrollment and a sharp reduction in the number of course sections offered due to the budget losses.

Chancellor Miles paid tribute to Scott’s effective leadership in Sacramento, particularly in promoting stronger linkages between the California Community Colleges, the California State University and the University of California systems.

Scott’s vast experience with community colleges is invaluable, she said, at a time of unprecedented budget cuts and swelling enrollment.

“We are practicing an art we are not good at – having to say no to our communities and students as we are forced to reduce our offerings,” Miles said. “At almost 30,000 students, we are bursting at the seams and still have 15,000 on waitlists as a result of our having fewer classes available.”

Scott described as a “tragedy” the severe funding cuts the community college system has had to endure in recent months as a result of the state budget crisis, noting last year’s 8 percent loss and the challenges currently posed as the state Legislature’s stalemate over the as-yet approved budget lingers.

“Right now, the picture in California is not very encouraging,” he said. “Part of the problem is structure. We are one of only three states that require a two-thirds vote in both houses to get a budget. The partisanship in Sacramento and Washington has only increased. That doesn’t help matters and I know what a hardship this presents… If this continues into September, some colleges will have difficulty meeting payroll. It’s a desperate situation and I’m very concerned about it.

“We all know that during this recession, unemployment has been high in California and a lot of people are out of work and wanting very much to come to our community colleges to take advantage of the wonderful career-technical programs offered. Veterans are coming to us in big numbers – 75 percent of veterans in California who receive the GI Bill have come to community colleges. In May, we saw the highest number of high school graduates in the history of California.”

Scott’s talk took a brighter turn when he spoke about a historic bill passed in Sacramento this week that would guarantee admission to a CSU campus as a junior for students who obtain a community college transfer degree.   This piece of legislation, Scott said, will save the state between $150 million to $200 million annually – monies he said should be used to widen access to higher education at a time when campuses across the state are cutting back classes.

The bill, SB 1440 by Sen. Alex Padilla, was approved with solid bipartisan support and no opposing votes and is on its way to the governor.  The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District actively supported the legislation.

“Students will need no more than 60 units to transfer – 39 to satisfy general ed requirements of the CSUs and the additional units for majors or areas of emphasis,” Scott said. “When you finish, you get an associate degree and transfer.

“Presently, the average community college who graduates from a CSU does so with 162 units. If that can be reduced to 135 units, you can see how it will save the state money and save the students money.”

 “SB 1440 recognizes the need to streamline the transfer process and provides an improved, more efficient  pathway between California Community Colleges and California State Universities,” Chancellor Cindy L. Miles and GCCCD Governing Board President Bill Garrett wrote in a July letter to California legislators signed by trustees, faculty, staff, students and administrators. “…community college students transfer to a California State University with an average of 80 semester units when only 60 units are required. By simplifying and increasing the efficiency of the transfer process for community college students, we save our students precious resources and open up our classrooms to additional students, saving the state approximately $160 million annually in increased access.”

The letter further noted that reducing the amount of time it takes for students to transfer frees up space for some 40,000 additional community college students and 14,000 CSU students annually.

Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District serves the East County region of San Diego County and beyond to the Imperial County and Mexican borders. The two community colleges that make up the district, Grossmont College and Cuyamaca College, serve nearly 30,000 students per semester, providing workforce training and basic skills education and preparation for transfer to four-year-institutions.  For more information about the colleges and the district, go to www.gcccd.edu

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