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Fee Hikes Reducing Enrollment at Colleges : Education: Officials fear that the doubling of student costs at 2-year schools will permanently dissuade some from seeking a degree.

August 26, 1993|JILL GOTTESMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SOUTHEAST AREA — A stiff boost in fees this fall apparently is triggering a student exodus at community colleges in the Southeast area.

Enrollment at Long Beach City and Cerritos colleges has dropped thousands of students below last fall's levels, officials said. Long Beach officials reported the largest drop, 2,860 students. Cerritos College, where classes began Monday, reported a decline of 1,428 students. Compton College administrators expect to see 500 fewer students when classes begin Sept. 6.

"It's not that students are going to school somewhere else," said one official at Long Beach City College, where classes are in their second week. "It's that they are doing something else besides going to school. They can't afford it."

Enrollment is expected to remain the same at Rio Hondo College near Whittier, but many students will be taking fewer courses, said Linda Umbdenstock, the college's director of institutional research. "We're finding that people still want to attend school, but can't afford to attend full time," she said.

Student fees at community colleges have jumped to $13 per unit per semester from $6 per unit last fall, a change triggered by the Legislature's struggle to balance the state budget. A full-time student carrying 16 units will have to pay $208, compared with $96 a year ago. The costs of books, materials and parking could drive the bill to $500 a semester.

The fees are even steeper for students who already have a bachelor's degree and have returned to take additional classes to upgrade their skills. They will pay a surcharge of $50 per unit. "The explanation we got (from Sacramento) was that these students already had their shot at inexpensive education," said Tracy O'Connell, Long Beach City College spokeswoman. "Now it's time for them to pay."

Some students, such as Cerritos College student Leticia Serratos, 23, said they will have to seek financial aid as a result of the higher fees.

"I don't think it's fair that people who are trying to improve their lives get charged higher fees," said Serratos, a second-year dental hygiene student who had worked in low-paying jobs after high school before she decided to go to college. "I've already spent $200 and I still have to buy my books."

Serratos said she plans to continue with her schooling and work part time until she receives financial aid sometime in October. After that, she plans to focus on school full time.

But officials worry about the hundreds of other potential students who opted to try to find a job this fall instead of attending college.

"The fear is that if they are turned off to college early on, they are likely to be underemployed all their life," said Dick Dawdie, dean of admissions at Long Beach City College. "They will be pushed into taking low-paying jobs and are likely to stay there a long time."

Officials at Compton College, where classes begin Sept. 7, said they have streamlined the procedure to obtain financial aid in an effort to encourage students to remain in school.

More than three-fourths of the students receive financial aid to cover the costs of increased registration fees, and at least half the students participate in a book loan program to help defray the costs of materials, financial aid director Willie Jones said.

"I don't think we'll see the students turning away because of the increased cost," Jones said. "Most are aware of the (financial assistance) programs and take full advantage of them."

Students who apply for aid can delay paying registration fees until the money comes though. "We're trying to make it as easy as possible for people to go to college," he said.

Still, Jones said, the higher fees might discourage potential students who were considering college for the first time and were unaware of the financial aid programs.

College officials said they expect the surcharge on students with bachelor's degrees to bring a huge decline in the number of part-time students. These students include police officers, nurses and others in medical-technical fields who take college courses to qualify for salary raises.

A four-unit computer class, for example, will now cost $252 per semester for those with college degrees. The same class last fall would have cost $24.

"We've priced these people out of the market," said O'Connell at Long Beach City College. "Most of them are just turning away."

But while most are complaining about the new fees, others say California community colleges are still a bargain.

Roger Wagner, 32, who was laid off from his aviation-electronics job at McDonnell Douglas last year, said he decided to complete his general college courses at Cerritos College instead of attending a more costly four-year university.

"Instead of jumping in head first, I wanted to make sure that I really liked what I've decided to study," said Wagner, who is interested in pursuing a career in biomedical technology. "What if I would have spent all that money to go to UCLA and I didn't like it?"

Changing Enrollments

Registrars at three of the Southeast area's four community colleges are predicting decreased enrollments this fall compared to last autumn. If the estimates are borne out, the student population will decline by more than 7% on the campuses this fall.

COLLEGE FALL 1992 FALL 1993* % CHANGE Cerritos 21,033 19,605 -6.8 Compton 6,000 5,500 -8.3 Long Beach 26,460 23,600 -10.8 Rio Hondo 12,753 12,753 -- Total 66,246 61,458 -7.2

* Projected enrollment

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