SACRAMENTO — A boom in the number of college-age students and laid-off workers means enrollment at California’s community colleges is skyrocketing.
But the spike in enrollment — the largest in 12 years — has not been met by an equal increase in state money.
Roughly 20 of the 108 campuses have already cut classes, despite swelling enrollment. And with a bleak state budget outlook in years to come, college officials worry it will only get worse.
Community College Chancellor Thomas Nussbaum announced this week the number of students attending state community colleges has climbed by more than 115,000, or about 6.9 percent, compared to last year. Nearly 3 million students attended California community colleges last year.
“Our main concern is that we are not going to be able to serve all of them in the future,” Nussbaum said, adding the funding shortage could mean fee increases next year. At $11 per credit, California currently has the lowest community college fees in the nation.
Part of the problem, school officials say, is the formula that connect enrollment and funding. Under the state’s master plan — a 1960s education blueprint that guarantees every student the right to go to college — community colleges are obligated to accept every person who has a high school or general education diploma.
But the state only increases funding up to a maximum of 3 percent above the previous year’s enrollment. This year’s state budget included a $118.7 million increase for California’s community colleges, which equals a little more than $1,000 per additional student.
Community colleges already get significantly less than any other public school system or university, according to Mark Wallace, spokesman for the chancellor’s office.
On average, the University of California receives nearly $27,000 per student in state funding, California State University gets $10,905 per student, and community colleges receive $4,690 per student, Wallace said.
“There’s a concern nationally that community colleges are not being funded adequately to keep the supply of workers flowing into the economy,” said Sharon Tate, dean at East Los Angeles Community College. “We need to have some equity in the funding formula.”
East Los Angeles College, which has 10.25 percent more students so far this year and could see an increase of up to 30 percent, had to cut courses and increase the average number of students per class.
Jason Delgado, 20, a student at Sacramento City College, said he has noticed larger class sizes this year, but said he didn’t have any trouble getting into the courses he needed.
“I lucked out and had teachers that were willing to take more students than the required amount,” he said. “We brought chairs in from other rooms, and some students were sitting on desks, but it worked out.”