Community colleges get boost under governor’s revised budget

Source: California Department of Finance. Credit: Lillian Mongeau/EdSource Today. (Click to enlarge)Community colleges will receive millions more to begin to restore cut classes, rebuild flagging enrollment and strengthen student support services under Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget released Tuesday.
Brown would add an additional $30 million to the system’s 2013-14 apportionment, raising it to $226.9 million from the Proposition 98 school funding guarantee. Unlike the January budget proposal, however, when Gov. Brown left it to the California Community Colleges Board of Governors to decide how to spend the money, the revise spells it out.
The budget calls for $89.4 million to go toward rebuilding enrollment, which fell by nearly half a million students in the past four years due to cutbacks in classes. The increase would provide enough money to pay for about 40,000 additional students.
Community colleges will receive another $87.5 million in cost-of-living increases, which would add less than 2 percent to the base funding amount, but will allow colleges to keep pace with rising costs of electricity and other services and supplies, said Paul Feist, the vice chancellor for communications with the community college chancellor’s office.
Brown also wants to take $50 million and add it to the matriculation budget to improve and expand programs to help students reach their goals, raising the total to $99 million. This will help fund the trifecta of support services in the Student Success Act of 2012: counseling and advising services, orientation for every student, and having each student design an education plan with a path to a degree, certificate or transfer to a four-year college.
Rich Copenhagen, president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges.The community college proposal was part of a budget generally seen as favorable for education. The proposal also calls for increases of up to 20 percent in the general fund apportionment to both the University of California and California State University systems, and calls for freezes on tuition increases in both those systems through 2016-17.
Jessie Ryan, associate director of the nonprofit Campaign for College Opportunity, which advocates for more college opportunities for youth, said her organization is very happy with Brown’s focus on access and student success.
“I think much of his proposal reflects his willingness to ask the system to be more accountable for improvements in graduation rates, in better transfer rates, in the number of low-income students who are successfully completing their degrees, and we think this is a critical direction, because we know we’re going to have this workforce shortage,” Ryan said.
Brown also withdrew several proposals that generated a backlash from his January budget for community colleges. The most strongly criticized was his plan to move adult education from K-12 school districts to community colleges.
He also withdrew an earlier recommendation to move what’s known as the census date, when schools take a count of their students for state funding, from the fall to the spring, which would essentially fund colleges based on student success rates rather than enrollment. And he backed away from his proposal to require students with more than 90 units to pay the full unsubsidized price of classes, which would cost between $127 and $190 per credit instead of $46 per credit.
Students lobbied against the unit cap, arguing that sometimes they’re forced to enroll in classes they don’t want or need because their required courses are full and they could lose their financial aid by dropping to part-time status. The chancellor’s office estimated that about 117,000 students could be affected.
“We saw this as an insidious proposal,” said Rich Copenhagen, president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges and a student in the Oakland-based Peralta Community College District. Student leaders are concerned that anytime there’s another requirement attached to financial aid it creates a two-tiered system of access, he said.
“So we’re always fighting against proposals that would create opportunities for those who are privileged with money and shutting out those that don’t have money,” Copenhagen said.
But students say the governor didn’t budge enough on his January proposal to require all community college students seeking fee waivers from the Board of Governors to first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. They’re concerned that some parents won’t provide the financial information needed to apply on the federal form; the Board of Governors waiver does not require the information. Brown is now recommending that the federal application process be phased in over the next year to give the community college system time to figure out another way to help those students gather enough documents to meet federal requirements.
The Campaign for College Opportunity supports the plan, Ryan said, because FAFSA opens the door for low-income students to receive federal Pell Grants that cover more than just tuition, which is the only item now covered by the Board of Governors fee waiver.
“I think it’s also really important to recognize that right now community college students are leaving large amounts of federal aid on the table,” Ryan said. “I know it’s millions of dollars.” However, Copenhagen argues that Congress reduced lifetime Pell Grant awards and that could prevent community college students from being eligible once they’re enrolled in a four-year college.
The Legislature could make the final decision on the aid requirement when they finalize the state budget in coming months, but lawmakers aren’t yet in accord. In subcommittee hearings last month, the Assembly recommended against the proposal while the Senate has so far put off a vote.

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