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They're Hitting the Road to Get to Class

Budget cuts at community colleges are forcing more students to commute to different campuses.

May 04, 2004|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

Instead of crossing a grassy campus field to get from one class to the next, Adriana Martinez drives 12 miles of freeways and streets to make it from Math 230 to Bio 20.

Martinez, 26, is a student at East Los Angeles and Trade Tech colleges. Every Tuesday and Thursday she commutes from her apartment in South Los Angeles to ELAC for math class, then races to Trade Tech for biology. Before lunch is over she's on her way to skid row to her job as a teacher in an after-school program.

That's the only way, she says, she can get all her classes in this budget-stressed era at California's community colleges.

Martinez is not alone. According to students and college officials, the state budget cuts that have reduced the number of course offerings at California's community colleges over the last two years are also increasing the ranks of students taking classes at more than one campus.

"I wouldn't want to commute if I didn't have to," Martinez said on a recent morning, merging her white Corolla into traffic on the Pomona Freeway en route to Trade Tech. "I want to go to one school. But they're not offering the courses that I need, so I have to go to different places."

Linda Michalowski, the state community college vice chancellor for communications, described such dual enrollment as "a fact of life."

"In times of budget crisis, when colleges scale back on the courses that are offered, sometimes students out of necessity have to enroll in a neighboring college to take the courses in the sequence they need," she said.

Statewide, the chancellor's office said, course offerings were down 8.7% overall at the 109 community college campuses between fall 2002 and fall 2003. During the same period, the nine-campus Los Angeles Community College District reports that it cut 10% of course sections. At Santa Monica College, budget reductions led to a 26% drop in the number of courses in the past year, officials said.

Officials hesitated to offer estimates of how many students commute to more than one community college. No figures are kept on such students at the state or district level.

"We know there's lots of them out there," just not how many, said Lynne Winter Gross, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Community College District.

Sustained Stress

Community colleges call Martinez's status "multiple" or "concurrent" enrollment, but she just calls it frustrating. Commuting between two campuses presents Martinez with inconveniences -- like 20- to 40-minute waits for metered parking around Trade Tech -- that add up to a sense of sustained stress.

The grind, she says, harms her social and academic life, and it places roadblocks in her goal to pursue an associate degree in nursing and then transfer to a four-year university, possibly for a bachelor's degree in psychology.

"I'm the only one going to school from my immediate family," Martinez said ruefully, moving through freeway traffic. "I need to, like, finish this."

In the years since she's graduated from Jordan High School, unable to decide on a course of study, Martinez has taken classes at City, Valley and Harbor colleges, usually because her nearest college didn't offer what she wanted at the time. But in the last two years, as she's focused on enrolling in a nursing program, Martinez said getting prerequisite courses has been a constant battle.

"Right after the budget cuts I was trying to get into Bio 3, and I was in that class for two weeks, but the teacher couldn't add me because there was so many students," Martinez explained. "It's just a general thing. When you ask, they say, 'There's no money for the class.' That's how they explain it."

Visits to the two-year colleges that dot Southern California yield anecdotal evidence that the number of multiple enrollees is rising.

Hassana Jackson, 21, commutes between Trade Tech and City colleges in addition to heading to Westwood for a UCLA extension class twice a week. Jackson doesn't have a car, so she spends most of her day on MTA buses and rail lines.

Because library and computer lab hours have been reduced, and she can't concentrate in the bustle of her uncle's house near downtown Los Angeles where she lives, Jackson said she studies in parks and on the bus. "I can't run the risk of being late," she said.

After her two-year degree is finished, Jackson wants to transfer to Cal State Northridge to study music and English. But meanwhile, she said she is having continuing trouble enrolling in overcrowded classes.

"I say it all the time, having to go from here to there and there to everywhere else, it really doesn't make you want to go to school that much anymore. I mean, if it's going to be like this?"

Multiple enrollment is not exclusive to community colleges. Budget cuts have also hammered the 23-campus California State University system. Hal Case, a 26-year-old art major who lives downtown, spent the fall semester commuting between Cal State Long Beach, his home school, and Santa Monica College for a three-dimensional design course.

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