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Head Count Community colleges juggle student budget formulas with further cuts looming.

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Posted: Thursday, September 6, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 10:24 am, Thu May 16, 2013.

The state budget could be a useful math lesson for community college students – but only those left after cuts reduce seats in the classroom. 

Monterey Peninsula College has lost 1,440 state-funded slots for full-time students since the 2008-09 school year. Based on the state’s reimbursement formula, which allots up to $4,564 per student, that equals a $4.5 million loss. 

And if voters reject Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax proposal, Proposition 30, they’ll shave another $338 million from community colleges statewide. 

“This is the state’s attempt to ration access,” says Stephen Ma, MPC’s vice president of administrative services. “They’re basically saying, ‘We’re not going to cut your funding per student,’ because then they’d be asking us to do more with less, and that’s an impossible situation.”

Instead, the solution is to cut classroom seats. If Prop. 30 fails, California will lose 180,000 more community college students, 515 of those at MPC and 531 at Hartnell. 

Even as community colleges brace for another potential round of mid-year cuts, MPC’s working to boost enrollment, which last year was 290 students shy of the maximum. “The state reduced the cap, but at the same time we didn’t make the cap,” Ma says. 

The state fronted the difference with stability funding, which is essentially a loan to cover the shortfall in students. So this school year, which began Aug. 27, MPC is aiming for 290 students beyond its cap to make good on the loan. 

MPC officials won’t finalize enrollment figures until later this month, but they’re adding seats to high-demand courses like math and chemistry to make space for more students. Even with those additions, they were still short seats: At least 100 prospective students were turned away from math classes this semester, according to Celine Pinet, MPC’s vice president for academic affairs.

“In a state and a county where we’ve all been saying we need to educate people in math and science and tech, it’s a little bit heartbreaking,” she says.

Hartnell College, meanwhile, has the opposite conundrum: accommodating more students than the state funds since 2008. That’s partly responsible for the school’s projected $1.6 million deficit this year, to be filled by reserves. 

This also means a migration of students from Hartnell to MPC, where more sections of popular classes can make it easier to fill basic academic requirements. 

“I’m thrilled if students want to come to Hartnell, but we’re going to do anything we can to help students pursue a higher education,” Hartnell President Willard Lewallen says. “We’re not the only game in town.

With many classes over capacity, Lewallen is considering launching a wait-list system next spring.

An enrollment freeze coming next spring at 15 of 23 California State University campuses, including CSU Monterey Bay, may send even more students to community colleges. 

CSUMB Interim President Eduardo Ochoa says out-of-state universities are actively recruiting Californians. 

“There has been a substantial reduction in enrollment already at communities colleges and the CSU,” Ochoa says. “The way to stay competitive is to have an educated workforce.”

“One of the keys to employment and getting a job is getting an education,” Ma says. “By reducing the number of students we educate, that could compound the unemployment picture. In the long run, I think rationing has actually made it more difficult for the state to get out of this recession.” 

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