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The State

Enrollment Rising at State's 2-Year Colleges

September 11, 2002|STUART SILVERSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite class cutbacks intended to curb enrollment in some districts, the number of students in California's community colleges has climbed this semester, further straining crowded campuses.

The enrollment crunch is expected to prod community colleges throughout the state to limit class offerings this year and turn away even more students.

"After a while, you run out of options. You can only get that class size so large before it becomes irresponsible to make it bigger," said Thomas J. Nussbaum, chancellor of the California community college system.

Nussbaum released a preliminary estimate Tuesday that fall enrollment statewide is up 6.9%, or more than 115,000 students, from a year earlier. If that gain proves accurate, it would be the biggest percentage increase in 12 years.

Many community college administrators expressed doubt that the actual increase will turn out be that large; the estimate was based on a survey taken in late August, before some schools' fall classes began. But they agreed that enrollment has jumped.

The financial pressure is particularly intense on the Los Angeles Community College District, despite cutbacks in class offerings. The district said its latest figures show that enrollment is up 8.6% from a year ago. That is far less than the 13% it estimated just three weeks ago, but still enough to squeeze its nine campuses.

"We're packing more people into classes than ever before, and we already were overenrolled," said Marshall "Mark" Drummond, chancellor of the Los Angeles district. Many students who have enrolled for the semester but have been shut out of classes, he said, "will probably get frustrated and drop out fairly soon."

One of the hardest-hit campuses is Los Angeles Mission College in Sylmar, where the latest figures show fall enrollment up 13.1%.

"Some of our classes are a little packed," said Baltazar Martinez, the 22-year-old student government president. He said his classes have grown from up to 30 students last year to, in some cases, 35 or more this year.

What's more, some students who have tried to sign up since the semester began last week for English, math or child-development courses are finding themselves out of luck. "Classes are filling up faster than they did last year," Martinez said.

It is a similar story at East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park, which is reporting an enrollment increase of 10.25%. Richard Anderson, chairman of the speech and theater department, said one benefit has been that classes that in past years have been hard to fill are enjoying enrollment increases in the 20% to 50% range.

Campuswide, the average class size has climbed to nearly 32 students, up from just over 28 students at the same time last year.

Other cuts are looming because of tight budgets. Sharon Tate, the college's dean of academic affairs, said the school this semester probably will trim tutoring services, student jobs and supplies.

Most of the rest of the state has been hit with rising enrollment, too. "It spans the urban and suburban schools," said Linda Michalowski, a spokeswoman and lobbyist for Nussbaum's office.

Some fast-growing districts said they can handle the extra students. College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita expects to serve 13,700 students fall, up about 8% from last year and double the level of six years ago. In that period, the number of class sections offered has risen from 682 to more than 1,600. "We've built in a lot of capacity," said Dianne G. Van Hook, the college's superintendent-president.

Even at College of the Canyons, class sizes will climb and some students won't be able to take courses at convenient times. "For community college students, that can be a real challenge because many of them work full time and have families," Van Hook said.

In California and across much of the nation, enrollment has grown as a result of the boom in young people reaching college age, rising tuition at public four-year universities and laid-off workers seeking to develop new job skills.

But community college officials and higher education analysts said that, just as the demand for education at two-year schools has sharply increased, hard-pressed state governments are clamping down on spending.

Educators said the emerging response--denying access to students by cutting classes--is wrenching for the colleges, which provide higher education, at low cost, to virtually all comers.

"We want to keep the doors of access open as long as possible," Nussbaum said.

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