Economy Drops, Enrollment Soars

Troy Cornell

Each morning for the last three semesters, Cristiano Cabrera has woken up to the same 7:37 a.m. bus ride to school.

Recently, however, like the thousands of other students who attend Glendale College, the 23-year-old architecture major has not only found the commute to campus increasingly congested, but also that his classes contain more students than chairs.

“I wouldn’t call it a nightmare just yet,” said Cabrera “It has always been packed in, but the economy has more than likely made it worse.”

These are the times that we live in. These are the issues facing not only Glendale students, but community colleges from across the state and country.

Consistently rising tuition fees at California’s four-year institutions are siphoning vast numbers of applicants into community colleges, most of which are already laden with freshly laid-off adults seeking to strengthen their skills in preparation for the bloodbath that is the current job market.

Students are also choosing to attend community college because of the costliness of a four-year institution.

Many of the nearly 1,200 community colleges across America that have served countless numbers of students over multiple generations are experiencing a huge influx of admissions not to mention an inability to cope with a skyrocketing application pool.

GCC is no exception to this.

Enrollment is up 7 percent for the spring semester and it is likely to continue upward as the country’s economic situation continues its bleak descent.

Increases in the number of students coupled with a meager budget are two things that don’t add up the way Ron Nakasone, interim executive vice president of administrative services, would like them to.

“We’re faced with a situation where we’re not getting additional revenue for serving the students,” said Nakasone.

California Community College funding is limited due to a growth cap. Exceeding the growth cap, (.6 percent for GCC this year) presents college administrators with a problem.

Although there is a 2 percent increase in growth, the school is not receiving additional funding to cope with the additional students and thus creating a budgetary problem.

“From a strictly fiscal point of view, we’re still struggling,” said Nakasone “Not all of the enrollment is funded.”

If GCC were to receive that additional funding, $2 million would be generated in comparison to the half a million dollars in growth revenue the college has generated simply off of student fees.

To curb the effects of the recession on the school budget, many faculty and staff members have been offered attractive retirement packages as a way for the school to save money and provide the necessary cash flow to balance the budget.

“This has been the worst in my lifetime.” Said Ricardo Perez, vice president of student services. “There’s an issue of equity..We don’t get the dollars we need to provide a wide variety of services.”

The good news? Change, although gradual, is happening and it is real.

First and foremost, the college’s growth cap for next year will be 3 percent, meaning there will more funding for the school to accommodate the increased number of students.

In addition, the pressure being applied by a hacked educational budget and a stagnant economy will force GCC to become more efficient which not only will cut costs in the short run, but will also eliminate future costs that otherwise might have still lingered on even in the best of times.

Changes in class scheduling, hybrid classes, block scheduling and how many students fill those classes will top the priority lists of GCC administrators Nakasone and Perez for the next three to five years.

“We’re looking at the aviation arts building to incorporate eight new classrooms and we’re looking at bringing in 10 classroom trailers,” Perez said.

A new proposed plan for new lab classrooms and student services building will be built by 2013 for 12 state-of-the-art classrooms.

In the interim, Perez stressed the importance of continuing to take advantage of counselors who will provide the guidance necessary to establish clear educational goals so that students won’t waste hard-earned money on units and classes that they don’t need.

“Don’t skip a term and lose your priority registration, have a plan,” said Perez.
Ultimately the back-to-school mentality shared by the masses means a better educated society and ultimately an overall better workforce for the post-recession years.

As President Obama so rightly said: “No one has lifetime employment. But community colleges provide lifetime employability.”