Sunday, February 08, 2004

Budget woes

As you may have heard, California's state budget isn't exactly the most balanced in the nation. Assuming the bonds on the March ballot pass, it looks like the CA community colleges won't be doing too badly, though if the bonds don't pass the future is unknown. Recently I've found out a few new things about the budget relating to the community colleges, and thought I'd pass them along. (note: Some of this information comes from the Governor's Budget Highlights; specifically, the PDF summary of Higher Education).

1) Remember a few days ago that I was frustrated by the lack of money available for growth? Well, if you look at the proposed state budget for this year there's plenty of money ($125.1 million) available for growth at the community colleges. So growth's being funded, right? The problem at my campus is that due to the significant schedule cuts made last year (overall CC funding in the state dropped from $6.6 billion to $6.3 billion), our enrollment is down about 5% year-over-year. The growth money discussed above is only available for schools that have a net enrollment increase year-over-year. Considering that most schools probably cut their schedules last year, this growth money seems like a nice way of saying "Look! We're funding growth!" without actually spending any money or helping the colleges accept more students (though some colleges may be growing currently, I don't know).

2) Another point on growth money: the amount any community college can grow in a year is capped at 3% in this year's budget (and it's been similarly capped for many years). Thus, even if next year we were able to regain the 5% of our enrollment that we lost this year, our funding would not increase by the full 5% of students we lost since last year. As I understand it, for many years my campus has grown faster than the state's growth cap and thus we're already not fully funded for our enrollment.

2) In the past, community colleges in CA have been able to survive temporary drops in enrollment though stabilization funds. Stabilization funds kept a school's funding based on their highest enrollment number in the past 2-3 years; thus schools that had to cut classes due to budget cuts one year could expand back to their original size in the next 2 years without losing funding. This program was in place when we cut classes a year ago and was a critical part of our financial strategy, but has now been cancelled. Thus, our cuts last year are immediately reducing our funding and making it harder for us to "grow" back even to our prior enrollment levels.

3) It's official: the 80's were a good decade. OK, so they weren't good in all respects, but they were in at least one (ed. note: synth-pop!): our lab supply budgets were bigger. Our current lab budgets are lower than they were in 1985, not even adjusted for inflation as far as I know.

4) Materials fees will likely be largely eliminated. In CA community colleges many classes use material fees (collected in addition to the per-unit fee for the course) to help pay for supplies (e.g. chemicals for an organic chemistry lab, art supplies, etc.). Recently the state government has specified that these fees should only be used for items the students could buy on their own, and that the students should be allowed to take the items home (I can't find any websites describing this policy change). I've been designing a new course and had applied to have a materials fee for the lab. The fee was to pay for live animals and rearing supplies so that students would rear the organisms they used later in class for experiments. The materials fee was rejected without comment. This is likely to hurt many classes.

5) Tuition's going up-up-up. Only a year and a half ago our tuition was $11 per unit, a real bargain. Last year it was raised to $18 a unit, and in the new budget it's proposed to be raised to $26 a unit. Students with a bachelor's degree will be charged $50 per unit (they were charged the same rate as non-degreed students before). Twenty-six dollars a unit is still pretty good, even compared with other states, but I still long for the days of $0 tuition. However, our funding will likely not increase a penny as a result of these tuition increases: the tuition increase is letting the state decrease its other allocations to the community colleges, and thus our funding is remaining stable. Understandable, but frustrating.

As a final note, please remember that I am not an expert on California community college funding. If anyone spots misunderstandings on my part, please let me know!

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