Community college cuts hurt transfers

For the first time in California’s history, community college students are facing a new challenge in transferring to four-year private universities.

The biggest hurdle for potential transfers used to be getting in to the school of their choice. Now, some community college students are facing a second problem — getting the classes they need to transfer.

“I’m scared I won’t get into my first choices,” said Lara Kasian, a sophomore at Glendale Community College who hopes to transfer in the fall to USC, UCLA or Berkeley. “Because of the budget cuts my chances are getting slimmer and slimmer.”

Tim Brunold, USC’s director of undergraduate admission, said transfers from community colleges make up about two thirds of USC’s total transfer population.

“In that sense, they are an important part to USC,” Brunold said.

But for many of the 2.9 million students who attend California’s 110 community colleges, transferring to a four-year university is becoming an overwhelming challenge.

The California State Legislature originally  estimated it would receive $130 million in stimulus funds, but the state only received $35-37 million in the fall, Vice Chancellor of California Community Colleges Terri Carbaugh previously told the Daily Trojan.

“I have been doing this for 21 years, and I have never seen anything like it,” said Daniel L. Nannini, transfer center coordinator at Santa Monica College. “A student who used to think they could leave in two years is becoming unlikely.”

California’s community colleges are restricting their budgets and struggling to accommodate a surge of high school students, military veterans and unemployed workers seeking training for a new job.

“We hit the perfect storm,” Nannini said. “2008 to 2009 was the biggest class of high school graduates. The economy is tanking. The [University of California schools] are reducing the number of students they can take. When people are unemployed, they go back to community college. It’s a tidal wave.”

With more people than ever turning to the community college system, the state’s tight budget has forced these colleges to cut courses and services and, in some cases, limit admission.

“For the first time in the history of California education, schools will not provide access to students who meet the minimum requirements,” said Kevin Meza, transfer coordinator at Glendale Community College.

And for the students who are admitted to community colleges, getting the classes they want or need to take is becoming increasingly difficult and some are reduced to being part-time students.

“Students are pretty bummed … and they are angry,” Nannini said. “They are really mad that they can’t find the classes they need to transfer.”

Nannini said one of his students walked into his office last week with a checklist of 55 classes she tried to get into by showing up. She failed to get in to a single one.

Students have a legitimate worry, Meza said.

California’s Master Plan for Higher Education, which was created in 1960, guaranteed that UC schools would select from among the top 12.5 percent of a graduating class, the California State Universities from the top 33.3 percent and community colleges had to admit any student. That does not always hold anymore.

“Up until a year ago I could guarantee students admission into a certain college campus … Some schools are starting to eliminate that,” Meza said. “Its uncharted waters.”

Kasian, whose two cousins transferred out of Glendale Community College in 2004 and 2008, said having good grades was enough then to get them into a four-year university — but not now.

“There is no way to deal with it,” Kasian said. “It motivates me to work harder.”

Brunold said USC prefers community college students who are enrolled full time. Transfer applicants are also highly encouraged to complete courses equivalent to USC’s General Education classes before they apply.

Though USC has not made any formal changes to its requirements, Brunold said students who have been affected by the budget cuts can still apply and will still be considered.

“The more a student can tell us about their situation the better we can be about considering it,” Brunold said.

The statewide budget cuts are also creating a backlog of transfers. Some of the state’s public universities have cut down on the number of transfers they can take, increasing the competition and leading more to turn to private schools.

CSU Pomona, for example, saw a 97 percent increase in transfer applicants, according to Deborah Brandon, executive director of admissions. But to meet the CSU mandate of reducing 2,000 students over a two-year span, CSU Pomona plans to reduce its entering class by one third.

Though USC did not see a drastic jump, Brunold said the number of community college transfer applicants increased by about 3 percent this year.

Nannini said these factors are forcing students to take advantage of any opportunity they can get.

“Get your degree where you can get your degree,” Nannini said. “That is the direction we are heading to.”