Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Ventura CCCD student protests

Yesterday hundreds of students walked out of classes at two of the Ventura County Community College District's campuses (Oxnard and Ventura) to protest the recent budget cuts in the district. Both the LA Times (article) and Ventura County Star (article; registration required) reported on the walkouts and subsequent protests.

Many of the students seem to be directing their anger towards the administration, but my guess is that the true culprit is the state of California's new budgetary policies. First of all, the governor has pulled out of his promise to fully fund Proposition 98, leading to significantly reduced funds for community colleges next year. The media has focused on this Proposition 98 issue, but there's more to the story than just that.

Ventura County Community College District's enrollment has declined recently, and since funding from the state is based on enrollment, state funding to the district has also probably declined. This has likely contributed to the district's financial problems. However, it's entirely possible that the enrollment decline is (or would have been) temporary, a result of factors such as increased tuition (it has more than doubled in the past few years) or cuts to classes made due to previous budget cuts.

Community colleges used to have three years to rebuild their enrollment before funding from the state dropped, meaning that colleges could maintain (and restructure) their course offerings while they attempted to regain enrollment. This policy allowed colleges to weather temporary drops in enrollment without making severe cuts to their programs, which was beneficial since the state regularly caps the funding available for growth (I've posted about this here). However, state law has now changed, and districts now have only one year to rebuild their enrollment and maintain funding. Unfortunately, this new policy has the potential to send colleges into downward spirals, since as enrollment drops, funding drops, and as funding drops class sections must be cut to balance the budget, and when class sections are cut, the enrollment drops even more.

Given this bugetary situation, what the college administrators are doing (unfortunately) makes perfect sense. The administrators are cutting programs that have low enrollment (e.g., journalism), so they can shield their high-enrollment programs (e.g., math, science, English) from cuts, all in a desperate attempt to maintain their enrollment and thus prevent their state funding from dropping even further, which would necessitate even deeper cuts.

The solution? Increase state funding.

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