Friday, April 08, 2005

More Community College Budget Woes

My dad forwarded me another article about the current California community college budget issue. The article, Science Students Beg for Classes (registration required; in the San Jose Mercury News), reports that Mission College's new science building isn't being used to its full potential due to a lack of funding for classes.

The scenario at Mission College sounds very similar to what is happening at my campus; there is high demand for many courses, but not enough funding for equipment and technical staff to allow those sections to run.
"Microbiology now fills up the fastest [of the college's health-related courses], but is also the most expensive course, said instructor Jean Replicon.

"'We have one lab dedicated for microbiology that is being used 10 hours a week,' Replicon said. 'We could use it all day and evening and weekend.'

"Compared with an English class, for which the college has to purchase minimal supplies, offering courses such as microbiology, physiology and chemistry is expensive. The college must buy everything from microscopes, biological specimens and cultures to beakers and chemicals.

"Also critically important are skilled lab technicians who perform such tasks as preparing media and cultures so experiments work.

"The college has money to hire additional instructors, especially for classes that are guaranteed to fill, said Jim Burrell, chairman of the division of general sciences. But there is no money for supplies and more technician time.

"Replicon said it would cost $17,500 a year to offer one new section of microbiology each semester -- just for the materials and technician staffing. She estimates there is enough student interest to fill four or five more sections.

"The need for equipment is another obstacle. Without a bigger sterilizer, called an autoclave, it would be difficult to add more microbiology sections, Replicon said. A new one would cost $25,000, but the money is not there.
A notable difference between Mission college's scenario and ours is that Mission college's dean reports that they have money to hire new instructors, as long as the new classes will fill. I've never heard that from the administrators at my campus.

To help cover the cost of expensive courses like microbiology, many California community colleges used to charge an equipment fee (separate from tuition) when a student registered for a course like microbiology. While this seems logical, the state has recently cracked down on equipment fees, mandating that, among other things, the students must be able to keep whatever equipment is bought with their equipment fees. Since colleges clearly cannot let students take home their bacterial cultures, or their formaldehyde-preserved specimens, this new restriction functionally eliminates the possibility of using equipment fees to help with such programs.

So, at least at my campus and at Mission college, we're left with programs that have high student demand, and even faculty available to teach the courses, but no money to offer the courses, and thus scores of students get turned away every semester.

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