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Ventura County

Colleges Grapple With Success

County's two-year campuses post another enrollment increase, but with the budget crisis it's not necessarily a positive thing.

February 13, 2003|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

Enrollment at Ventura County's three community colleges rose 3.6% this spring over last year, which normally would indicate a positive trend.

But with the state in a budget crisis, district officials are wondering how they can continue to afford to educate all the students who want to attend.

Already grappling with a $3-million midyear cut from its $115-million general fund budget, officials with the Ventura County Community College District expect another $5 million in cuts in the next fiscal year.

"When the governor talks about cutting revenue back, what do we do?" said Vice Chancellor Michael Gregoryk. "We're not turning away any students."

Enrollment figures this spring show that Moorpark College remains the system's largest with 14,585 full- and part-time students. Ventura College has 12,932 and Oxnard College 7,912.

The district has already decided to eliminate its four-week summer sessions, which will reduce the need to hire part-time instructors to teach those classes, and it will consider further reductions at a budget meeting Feb. 28.

Although money is distributed to community colleges based on full-time equivalent enrollment, the state caps funding increases for each of California's 108 districts. Ventura County's cap is 2.24% -- well below its 3.6% enrollment increase this semester.

Full-time equivalency is based on the number of students taking a course load of 15 hours or more. For example, if one student is taking a seven-hour course load, another five hours and another three hours, their combined hours add up to one full-time equivalent student.

Last fall, total full-time enrollment at the three community colleges rose 5.6% over the previous fall semester. The enrollment spurt indicated that a spending scandal had not driven away students, acting Chancellor Jim Walker said at the time. The district was mired in controversy last year involving former Chancellor Philip Westin, who has since resigned.

Rising enrollments are fueled in part by the weak economy. When people lose their jobs, educators say, they often head back to school to learn more marketable skills.

The sour economy and the boom in the college-age population have hit California's network of community colleges hardest. To compensate for the state budget cuts, colleges across the state are turning away students, cutting some courses and overloading others.

Under Gov. Gray Davis' proposal to close an estimated $34.6-billion budget gap, the cost of a community college education would more than double from $11 to $24 a unit. That could keep some low-income and immigrant students from reenrolling or even applying, educators say.

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