The ripple effect from the budget problems battering Cal State Northridge and the state university system will impose unprecedented problems next year on already overburdened community colleges, administrators said Tuesday.
As space at four-year state campuses becomes more limited in the fall due to the elimination of classes because of budget cuts, students will be heading in droves toward two-year colleges in the San Fernando, Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys, officials said.
And as full- and part-time enrollment at the community colleges in turn swells to unprecedented levels, some schools will be offering classes six days a week--from morning until night--converting office space to classrooms and even renting space at local high schools.
But all that will not be enough. There are just too many students, and not enough money, to go around, administrators say.
"We won't be able to cope," predicted Chancellor Donald Phelps of the Los Angeles Community College District, which includes three colleges in the San Fernando Valley. "We turned away 30,000 students last year, and we'll turn away more. We've got a problem here."
Students are accepted on a first-come, first-admitted basis.
Things aren't any better in the northern reaches of the county, where administrators said enrollment at community colleges is expanding faster than anywhere else in the state.
Dianne Van Hook, superintendent of College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, said the school last semester turned away 2,000 students, one-fourth of those who applied. She said she expects the problem to grow far worse at her school and elsewhere as more and more students look to already strapped community colleges as a last resort for higher education.
"We're tapped," Van Hook said. "All of the community colleges are at their wits' end. We can't pull any more rabbits out of a hat."
At Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, students were turned away from more than half of the 1,100 classes offered last year. This year, the school is open six days a week, and has turned employee lunchrooms and break rooms into classrooms, college spokesman Steve Standerfer said.
"If the money's not there, we'll start making cuts," he said.
It is up to the administration of each campus to decide which classes to eliminate.
In the Los Angeles Community College District, administrators fear that a 10% funding increase proposed by Gov. Pete Wilson to help them expand could become one of the many casualties of the state's worst cash crisis since the Depression.
Indeed, the district is using the same $362.5-million budget it used last year to draw up next year's proposed budget, Phelps said. That adds up to an actual funding decrease of 3% because of inflation and more students being turned away.
"We look at that big overflow and we get upset," district spokesman Fausto Capobianco said. "Somewhere in there could be a kid who may have the answer to AIDS or a cure for the common cold. But because we don't have the funds, the facilities or the resources, that person could be left out."
The community colleges will be inheriting much of the problems facing CSUN, where administrators fear budget cuts of 11.5% or more. Although partly protected by Proposition 98, the voter-approved constitutional guarantee for education funding, community colleges are also vulnerable to budget cuts.
With the state's present budget deficit, state education officials believe that as much as $1.5 billion could be cut from the proposed $18.4-billion budget for public elementary and high schools and community colleges.
Los Angeles community college administrators plan to gather Thursday to discuss how to protect their budgets during the deliberations under way in Sacramento. Capobianco said the district might get enough of a funding increase to at least partly address the annual 5% growth in students--"or we could get nothing. Everything is very unclear. It changes on a daily basis as to what they're going to do."
In the meantime, the district's nine community colleges--including Mission in Sylmar, Pierce in Woodland Hills and Valley in Van Nuys--are in a budgetary holding pattern. They desperately need to expand and maintain crumbling structures and hire more teachers, they say, yet they are afraid to allocate or spend any money because they are unsure how much they will have.
At Valley College, Shannon Stack, institutional planning administrator, said she is afraid to implement any long-range plans that could create more classroom space or address the influx of students.
"With the state budget the way it is," she said, "running out and spending any money at this point would be foolish."
At Mission College, President Jack Fujimoto says that his hands are tied and that he must budget less than the $8.4 million spent last year even though enrollment is way up.
And at Pierce College, President Lowell J. Erickson said he can't address crowding at the school until he knows how much money he'll get.