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Valleywide Focus

Colleges Blame Low Turnout on Cuts, High Fees


The fall semester began at four Valley community colleges Tuesday, with fewer students scrambling to fill a shrinking number of courses at the two largest schools.

"It's been crazy here," said Margaret Redmon, supervising clerk for registration at Pierce College. "A lot of the students are angry. They're paying more money and getting fewer classes, and it feels bad hearing their woes and not being able to do anything about it."

At Pierce and Valley colleges, lines at registration tables snaked through doors and hallways and around buildings as students waited to pay $3 more per unit, and add and drop classes from a shrinking selection, officials said.

But despite the sometimes grim view taken by many administrators, the annual back-to-school carnival atmosphere prevailed on campuses, with students chatting about their summers and rushing from class to class.

"Gotta come to school," said Robert Dorsey, a 23-year-old returning welding student at Pierce. "I have to learn as much as I can if I want to do my trade."

But Dorsey and other students said they were concerned about the fee hike from $10 to $13 per unit this year, as well as cuts to classes and part-time teaching staff, due to budget trims. And, at Pierce and Valley colleges, the class reductions are mirrored by drops in enrollment.

At Pierce, which cut 130 classes from last semester's course book, enrollment was down about 13% from the first day of classes last year, to 15,716, making this the third straight semester that enrollment has fallen. At Valley, where 174 or 11% fewer classes were offered, enrollment dipped 11%, to 15,736.

But the highest percentage drop in enrollment was at Los Angeles Mission College in Sylmar, where the number of new students fell by nearly a third, to 1,417, despite the fact that the school is offering about the same number of classes. Total enrollment at Mission fell 15%, to 5,365.

"It's a mystery," said Carlos Nava, dean of student services. "It's the new student that didn't come in."

Glendale College has fared much better, with 12,389 students enrolled by Tuesday morning, compared to 12,790 last fall, a registration official said.

At the beginning of each semester, administrators nervously watch enrollment figures as well as the number of classes the average student takes, because each community college receives funding for the next year based on the most recent level of student participation.

"What we're afraid of is that we're getting into a downward spiral," said Pierce College President Lowell Erickson. "We didn't have as much money to offer as many classes this year, and if you don't have the classes for people to take, they can't get in or don't come."

Community College Rolls Enrollment is down at community colleges in the San Fernando Valley. Officials blame the lower turnout on fewer classes and higher fees. Source: college registrars.

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