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Community colleges see decline in enrollment, but $170 million funding may lead to problems

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Posted at 11:38 PM, Jun 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-11 03:05:56-04

Across the 116 California Community College System, enrollment has plunged by 11 percent last Fall due to the pandemic. But a plan to give California’s community college system $170 million to hire full-time faculty has administrators divided.

“It does feel ironic that we would try to do it right now while enrollment is declining, but I think a lot of us also have expectations that the enrollment is going to rebound fairly quickly,” said Cuesta College Vice President of Instruction Dr. Jason Curtis.

Cuesta College saw a 12 percent decrease in enrollment in Spring 2021 due to the pandemic.

“They were also struggling with a change in their employment or loss of employment. The increasing pressures of just isolation. And in many cases having illness in their family,” said Cuesta College Superintendent Dr. Jill Stearns.

Now, California lawmakers are proposing $170 million in ongoing funding to hire 2,000 more full-time faculty across the community college system. They’re also considering $75 million in ongoing funding for part-time instructors. This is to reach their goal of having full-time instructors teach at least 75% of classes.

And Cuesta College is already set to add 9 new, full-time faculty members for Fall 2021. If the additional government aid is passed, Cuesta College will be granted $1.2 million to hire additional full-time faculty for Fall 2022.

“It’s those additional hours to work on committees, to work on program development that it’s hard to assign those to a part-timer, because they’re only paid for their time in the classroom,” Dr. Curtis said.

Along with providing quality education, research indicates that students are more likely to complete college with full-time instructors.

But last week, the Association of Community College Financial Officers wrote in a letter to top lawmakers saying, “Excessive hiring in a declining enrollment environment can lead to painful budget reductions, layoffs, furlough.”

The government also has specific rules as to how community colleges can use the funding.

“What becomes challenging is when resources come into our system and they’re very much prescribed in terms of how we can use this money,” said Dr. Jill Sterns.

Dr. Sterns added she would like more flexibility with any dollars they get so that Cuesta College can provide mental health services and additional basic needs for students.

The legislature has until June 15 to approve of this funding for the coming year’s state budget.