Students' time at community colleges increases

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Correction Appended

Berkeley City College student Ali Attari was ready for UC life over a year ago, but unavailable core community college classes held him back from applying to UC Berkeley until this year, his third year at the college.

Attari is just one of many students whose life plans have been stalled due to budget cuts at the community college level and a shortage of courses for the amount of enrolled students.

A recent Pearson Foundation study found that 47 percent of students in the state's fiscally strained community college system experienced difficulty when enrolling in courses - nearly twice the national average.

Because of this shortage, more California students like Attari are being forced to stay additional semesters and sometimes years at community colleges before fulfilling the 60-unit minimum requirement for transferring to a UC, according to UC Office of the President administrator Nancy Coolidge.

"The ones who probably have to take just one more semester are the lucky ones," said Program Director for the Institute of College Access and Success Debbie Cochrane.

But despite these difficulties facing transfer students, the UC - per a stated goal in the UC Commission on the Future Final Report - is admitting more transfer students than ever.

In 2010, the UC received 15,718 Statements of Intent to Register from state community college transfers - nearly 2,000 more than in 2009, said UC spokesperson Leslie Sepuka.

But the increase in transfer students comes at the price of reducing the proportion of freshmen admitted. In 2009, freshmen composed 77.2 percent of the total admitted students, compared to 74.9 percent in 2010, according to UC admission statistics.

"It is harder for freshmen than it was in the past and less competitive for transfer students to get in," Coolidge said. "Among undergraduates, a certain percent must be freshmen and transfer students. That number has been shifting so there are more transfer students."

The Pearson survey also found that almost 60 percent of California community college students have taken at least one online course, something Coolidge said is a result of class shortages. She said students are also taking courses at other nearby colleges.

UC Berkeley junior transfer student Jess Hawkins said she planned ahead to ensure a spot in classes. She registered for her core classes at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills her first semester and, though frequently waitlisted, consistently contacted her teachers until she was enrolled.

Hawkins said she was eligible for transfer after two years but that she took four online classes to expedite the process. She added that a majority of her friends took at least three years to meet all their transfer requirements.

"It is all about starting early and not procrastinating," she said. "I had a friend who needed just one math class her last quarter and did not get it, so she had to stay another year."

Cochrane said the overpopulation of the state and the high demand for education rests on the UCs, CSUs and community colleges. But, because of huge budget cuts that affect all three institutions, California is not able to meet the demands of all the students.

"When the UC is not able to accept all the students that it wants to, some of those overflow students go to CSUs," she said. "When CSUs cannot accept all their students, others are left to go to community colleges."

President and CEO of the Community College League of California Scott Lay said because community colleges are so populated, more space and resources are greatly needed. But, with an additional $400 million reduction from the state coming to the institution next year, things are looking to get worse for students, and their plans to transfer may be stalled even more.

"When state budgets are as problematic as they are now, higher education in California is feeling it more than other institutions in other states," he said. "Community colleges are advocating for more money, but preparing for more cuts."


Correction: Thursday, April 21, 2011
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Debbie Cochrane is the program director for the Public Policy Institute of California. In fact, she is the program director for the Institute of College Access and Success.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Jasmine at [email protected]

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