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New semester starts at Grossmont, Cuyamaca colleges

Posted on: Aug 17, 2012 1:00:00 AM

Contact: Della Elliott, (619) 644-7690

    Fall semester begins Aug. 20 at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges, with faculty and staff committed to serving more than 25,000 students in 160 degree and certificate offerings, despite four years of state budget cuts and fewer students that the state will fund to attend college.

   Economic and political uncertainties have added to the planning and budget challenges of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District and its two East County colleges, which has forced the district to drastically cut back course offerings and reduce staff through attrition and retirement incentives.

   State increases in community college fees mean students at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges now pay fees of $46 per credit unit, a 22 percent increase from the $36 per credit unit students paid a year ago, but still a bargain compared to public and private four-year campuses and for-profit vocational schools.

   The state funding crisis resulted in a dip in district enrollment in for-credit classes to about 17,200 at Grossmont College and about 8,200 at Cuyamaca College. Unlike K-12 school systems, funding for enrollment at California community colleges is capped by the state, regardless of need. 

    The jam-packed classrooms and bulging waitlists at Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges indicate that the need is great. Nearly 100 percent of available classes at both colleges are filled for the fall semester, and waitlists for class seats have grown to more than 23,000.

    “Demand for classes has gone through the roof,” Grossmont College President Sunita “Sunny” Cooke said. “Forty percent of course offerings have been cut in four years, making progression to degrees incredibly challenging.”

    With four years of state funding cuts to the district -- including more than $9 million for the 2011-12 fiscal year -- its future will be dictated by the results of the Nov. 6 election. The passage of two key initiatives will mean the difference between the colleges being able to restore some classes or facing a crippling midyear funding loss and, on another front, prolonged facility shortages.

    If Proposition 30, the governor’s tax measure, is approved by California voters, the district will be able to restore some of the 1,600 classes that Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges have been forced to cut since 2008 because of the statewide funding crisis. If the measure fails, the district will face another cut of almost $6 million and will have to eliminate another 564 course sections.

    The district is seeking approval from East County voters on a $398 million facilities bond measure that would enable the district to construct and renovate facilities and upgrade technology to meet the educational and vocational training needs of the region. The district’s comprehensive planning process indicates a critical need for job-training facilities, veterans’ centers to accommodate the high numbers of former and active-duty soldiers enrolling in college with GI Bill benefits, and modernized classrooms, libraries and science labs.

    Chancellor Cindy L. Miles said polls and surveys of community leaders show that East County supports the college district.  “Our colleges play an integral role in the East County,” Miles said. “The public understands this and holds Grossmont and Cuyamaca in very high regard for the good that we do.”

    The district’s last construction bond measure – the $207 million Proposition R – was approved by East County voters in 2002.   With spotless audits year after year and the watchful monitoring of a citizens bond oversight committee, Prop. R has been highlighted as a model in the state for transforming Grossmont and Cuyamaca into high-tech resources for students and the community.

    At college convocations this week, Governing Board President Bill Garrett likened the colleges’ struggle of serving students while under unprecedented financial duress to the accomplishments of athletes who overcame obstacles in the recently completed Olympics in London.

“We have our own obstacles to overcome in our district,” Garrett said. “In aiming high and shooting for the stars, we can and do so many important things at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges. What we do to change people’s lives is better than any Olympic medal.”

    Cuyamaca College President Mark J. Zacovic adopted the convocation theme, “Simply the Best,” to describe the college’s accomplishments in the midst of budget reductions and increased demand.

     “Our focus is on being simply the best college we can be to serve our students,” Zacovic said.

Although students are enduring challenges in getting the classes they need, both colleges are taking steps to help them make the most of their education:

  • This fall, Grossmont College will be launching the Freshman Academy, which offers selected incoming high school graduates with below college-level reading and writing skills extra counseling and development classes to help them succeed in college. Plans are in place to expand the program to provide the additional support all new students. 
  • For the second year, Cuyamaca College will be offering the First-Year Experience, which helps recent high school graduates make the transition to college. More than 150 students will receive an orientation and barbecue on the first Friday of classes – one of several activities planned during the year to help students succeed.
  • Cuyamaca College is now affiliated with the Global Corporate College, a national consortium of colleges and universities focusing on workforce training. This connection provides the resources for the college to provide customized contract education to local employers.
  • Grossmont College students will be participating in a multidisciplinary book reading of “Silent Spring,” the book credited with helping to launch the environmental movement of the 1960s. For the second year, Grossmont College will be joining five regional universities and several organizations in a collaborative reading and multidisciplinary study of a common book.       
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