The new state Commission for the Review of the Master Plan for Higher Education will start its deliberations soon and, by legislative directive, must focus during its first year on community colleges. It's not a moment too soon, given sharply declining enrollments and barely adequate budgets for these two-year campuses.
Enrollment figures represent one starting point for discussion, especially if the commission can maintain an analytical air in its assessment rather than resorting to partisan polemics. It's too easy to blame the recent declines on the $50 fee imposed last fall and then go no further. The commission should also consider whether the recent decline in enrollment is a natural sign of the demographic times, a function of outside forces or perhaps a symptom that something is lacking on the campuses themselves.
The figures are indeed alarming. In Los Angeles alone, enrollment for the spring term is down by more than 19,000 students, or 18% since last spring.
Those figures don't tell the whole story because the enrollment decline actually began before the fee was imposed. A recent report from the California Postsecondary Education Commission points out that enrollment dropped off by 4.9% in the fall of 1982. That decline reflects mainly older, part-time students who had been taking the recreational courses that lost state financial support that year.