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Yuba College students make do
When student Aurelio Valencia talks to his friends and classmates at Yuba College, he hears plenty of woeful stories about waiting lists and frustrations at not getting desired classes.
He has had similar struggles in his two years at Yuba College, and when his cousins say they don't recall ever having such challenges, he said he tells them, "lucky you."
Easy access to classes, taking any courses of interest or those necessary for transferring, and finding a plethora of support for a community college degree are no longer the case, thanks to budget cuts.
"Maybe students are not aware, since we didn't experience the good times, but if we continue to get more cuts, it's going to affect all of us," Valencia said.
California's community college system — the nation's largest — has suffered about $809 million in state funding cuts since 2008. It faces another $338 million hit mid-year if voters reject a tax measure on the Nov. 6 ballot supported by Gov. Jerry Brown.
A survey released by the community college system quantified campus struggles that result from severe budget cuts, ranging from declines in enrollment to waiting lists and declines in support services.
Yuba College knows them all.
"It is extremely painful," said Chancellor Doug Houston. "We passionately, adamantly love what we do, and that is helping students change their lives ... It goes against our grain to use words like rationing and triage. Frankly, it's offensive."
Yet rationing and triage are exactly what the college district has had to do, as it endured a 23 percent reduction in funding in the last three years.
Yuba College was left no choice but to reduce staff and services. The trickle-down effect to students has meant fewer classes and lower enrollment.
In fall 2008, Yuba College served 9,712 students. This fall, it's serving 7,919 — an 18 percent drop.
The number of sections it offers has shrunk even more, from 1,261 to 991 — a 21.5 percent decline. Nearly every general education class and classes for transfer students have waiting lists.
"We don't want to close the doors on students ... but when we reduce the funding, we have to reduce other things," Houston said.
Marysville resident Kaycee Scott, 21, in her seventh semester, said she couldn't take one class this semester because it's not offered. To compensate, she, like many students, tries to "make do with what's there."
To take the classes she needs, Scott has to spend entire days on campus, from 9 a.m.-8:30 p.m., with large gaps in between. A math major who hopes to one day be a teacher, Scott said she thinks she will soon be able to transfer.
Curbing cuts' impact
The college is doing what it can to compensate for cuts, upping class sizes and trying to coordinate schedules to improve access, Houston said. It is also saving money where it can, leaving positions vacant and consolidating others.
A leading concern continues to be potential mid-year cuts if voters reject Proposition 30. If it passes, the college district will still face many of the same struggles, but if it does not, the district will have to use one-time funds to try to keep services and programs intact through the year, Houston said.
Administrators at the 78 colleges who responded to the survey said if further cuts are required, they will be left with no option but to reduce class offerings, lay off faculty and postpone maintenance.
Yuba College is trying to analyze ways to serve more students, with one likely consideration being adding an evening program to the new Sutter County campus and freeing up funds by finding ways to automate basic services currently offered.
But faced with the chance of mid-year cuts, each college is being asked what it would choose to reduce first, whether counseling, tutoring, instructional aids, front-office staff or other support services — and what courses.
Another hit to students has been a tuition hike, which has risen from $36 a unit to $46.
Students compensate how they can, over-enrolling in classes to make sure they get the ones they need or adding classes to ensure they qualify for financial aid. Unfortunately, they may be filling a spot in a course another student needs.
"The first week of school, classes are jampacked, people are wanting them and they can't get in. Then, by the third week, they are half-empty," said Olivehurst resident Sheryl Rich, whose business law and other classes she considered were canceled from low enrollment.
Houston has two pieces of advice for students: Get engaged in college decision making and take charge of your education by picking a major, following it and deviating from it as necessary. Above all, don't give up.
"Once you've started down a path, you can adjust it from there," Houston said. "Look at something that feels like defeat or failure and realize it's not life-threatening ... but an opportunity to recommit to succeeding."
That advice resonated Monday when the state community college system's governing board approved systemwide changes in registration policies for fall 2014 that favor students with specific education plans and who have completed registration and assessment tests.
Among all groups, active duty military, veterans and former foster youth, as well as low-income and disabled students, will continue to have first preference for classes.
Marysville resident Brittany Young, 18, registered for classes in January, something she said may be a factor in why she got the classes she wanted — including an English class where others were turned away.
"All of my friends, we're on top of it, so we get the classes that we want and that we need," she said.
CONTACT Ashley Gebb at email@example.com or 749-4783. Find her on Facebook at /ADagebb or on Twitter at @ADagebb.