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September 29, 2002|EDWARD HERNANDEZ Jr.

Of all the education and training providers in California, community colleges have been in the best position to respond directly and quickly to community needs.

The state's 108 community colleges offer programs for transfer to four-year institutions, career education programs, continuing education for academic and occupational preparation, life enrichment and skills improvement.

At Rancho Santiago Community College District, home of Santa Ana College and Santiago Canyon College, we measure our value by student success. Last year, 1,593 students completed associate degrees, 488 finished certificate programs and more than 1,751 students transferred to four-year institutions.

But let's take a look at the flip side of the coin. At Santa Ana College, the parking lot is nearly always overflowing. At Santiago Canyon College when it rains, students have to sit in their cars between classes because there is no library or student center where they can study. Our colleges are bursting. Since 1995, the college district's total enrollment has grown 61% to nearly 58,000 students. And we see continued enrollment growth of at least 10% annually until 2010.

The growing student population results in severe overcrowding coupled with deteriorating facilities at Santa Ana College and an unfinished campus at Santiago Canyon College. That forces us to look beyond the state for resources.

There is a $16.5-billion capital construction backlog in California. The state is able to fund just 4% of projects needed at community colleges statewide, according to the California Community College State Chancellor's Office. At the current rate of construction, Santiago Canyon College's planned 10 academic and student support buildings won't be completed until mid-century.

Since 1915, Santa Ana College has delivered on its promise of high-quality, accessible education. Hundreds of thousands of students have earned degrees and entered the workforce. Yet, despite valiant efforts to keep up appearances, this fine old college is rapidly succumbing to age. A campus that was built in the 1950s and '60s for a student enrollment of 8,500 now serves nearly 30,000. This creates inordinate stress on electrical, plumbing and heating equipment. If you visit the Student Success Center, you will see every computer station full and lines two or three students deep.

Community colleges always see increased enrollments during volatile economic times. These are precisely the moments when our residents rely on our colleges being ready to meet their needs. Because of our open-door policy, our quick retraining programs, and our low-cost quality education, our enrollments and the need for services continue to rise.

Unfortunately, these swelling enrollments come at a time when California is cutting its budget. In the 2002-2003 state budget, education reductions were significant. They include cuts of $30 million in CalWORKS, $22 million in matriculation support services and $5.2 million in faculty and staff development.

Even without these reductions, our community colleges receive the lowest amount of state funding of any segment of public education at $4,690 per full-time equivalent student. This compares with $7,487 for K-12, and $10,905 and $26,952 for the California State University and University of California systems respectively.

State funding accounts for 45% of our district's revenue. But the budget includes nothing for extraordinary capital projects. To construct or significantly renovate buildings, the system relies on statewide voter-approved measures.

Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation to place Proposition 47, the Kindergarten--University Public Education Facilities Bond, on the November ballot. Proposition 47 provides for a bond issue to fund facilities that will relieve overcrowding and repair buildings. The proposition, if passed, would appropriate money from the state general fund to pay off bonds.

But our district cannot rely solely on state funding. Last year it aggressively sought and received more than $5.2 million in competitive grants and raised nearly $625,000 in private and corporate donations.

Unfortunately, this is not nearly enough in the face of our crumbling and insufficient infrastructure. Without additional resources, our district cannot continue to serve the community as it has in the past. We have no choice but to turn to the local community.

For the first time, Rancho Santiago Community College District's Board of Trustees unanimously approved a recommendation to place Measure E, a $337-million bond measure, on the November ballot. If approved, Measure E would fund repair, renovation and construction projects at both campuses. If passed, taxpayers within our district, encompassing Anaheim Hills, Orange, Santa Ana, Villa Park and parts of Garden Grove, Irvine and Tustin, will pay about $25 per $100,000 assessed value of their homes on their annual tax bills.

With our community colleges fulfilling essential needs such as training firefighters, public safety personnel, nurses, teachers and other high-caliber professionals, we ask for residents' careful consideration of both Proposition 47 and Measure E. For the sake of our future, we must expand resources to assure that our community colleges are there when we need them.


Edward Hernandez Jr. is chancellor of the Rancho Santiago Community College District.

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