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Governor’s Plan Poses Problems for Vista College

Friday January 23, 2004

Local community college officials fear a proposal to push 10 percent of incoming University of California and California State University freshman into community colleges will end up pushing some Berkeley students straight out of higher education. 

“We’re already bulging at the seams,” said Howard Purdue, executive vice chancellor for admissions of the Peralta Community College District—which includes Vista College in Berkeley. “If we have to accept student A, we won’t have space for student B.” 

On the surface, Peralta officials should be thrilled with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal. While he recommended steep cuts to UC and CSU, the governor pledged roughly $200 million in new spending on community colleges—more than enough to pay for his plan to divert about 7,000 UC and CSU students through the state’s less expensive 72 community college districts. 

But Peralta, which in addition to Vista oversees three other schools in Northern Alameda County, won’t get its fair share, said Tom Smith, the district’s associate vice chancellor of budget. 

The problem, he said, is that most of the money directed towards enrollment growth is tied to a formula that penalizes Peralta and other urban districts with stagnant populations and high school graduation rates. 

“Places where they’re building lots of houses will get the majority of this,” Smith said. “We’re not so lucky.” He estimated Peralta would net about $1 million from the budget proposal—not enough to absorb the anticipated wave of several hundred new students and still meet the needs of its core population. 

Potentially compounding the problem, said Steve Boilard of the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Office, is that Peralta could see a disproportionate number of the new transfers, since those who are guaranteed admission to UC Berkeley as juniors could choose to attend a Peralta school to be near UC.  

“The way funding gets allocated doesn’t take into account that some districts in the system might face a bigger burden,” he said. 

Frederick E. Harris, California Community Colleges (CCC) assistant vice chancellor for finance, said the chancellor’s office was aware of Peralta’s concerns, and that “it’s definitely something we’re going to look at.” 

Smith doubted the CCC would reform its formula for distributing growth revenue this year and warned that without a bigger share of the pie, financial hardships would continue. 

Earlier this month, the CCC reprimanded Peralta and 12 other districts for allowing cash reserves to fall below five percent of expenditures. 

Squeezed between back-to-back budget cuts that reduced state funding by over $3 million and spiraling enrollment rates driven by students eager for job training and a low cost alternative to UC, Peralta dipped into its reserves to enroll 2,200 students above a state-mandated cap. 

To deal with its budget crunch, the district cut 11 percent of class offerings this fall and denied full-time enrollment to 3,000 prospective students, Purdue said. 

If Peralta, with 19,100 full-time students, is required to bump up its advanced classes for an influx of transfer students, Purdue predicted it will have to cut back on its vocational and basic skills classes, reducing access to two of its primary constituencies. 

“We’re facing decisions that have ethical and political overtones,” he said.