Mid-year cuts a possibility for community colleges | SierraSun.com

Mid-year cuts a possibility for community colleges

David Mirhadi
Sun News Service

Sun News Service / David MirhadiSierra College student Rubi Ambrosio, of Grass Valley, hugs her 6-year-old daughter, Asia, as she talks about how possible mid-year cuts could affect her last semester at the college.

GRASS VALLEY “-She’s nearing the end of her time at Sierra College, but Rubi Ambrosio wonders if she can afford to finish.

With state legislators gathering this week to wrestle with California’s budget crisis, the likelihood of mid-year cuts are hanging over the state’s community colleges. Ambrosio already has had to pay her health fee, even though it was originally something she was given for free.

Next semester, she worries she may have to pay for her textbooks, too.

Those costs being passed on to students stem from the state’s continuing budget shortfall. The Sierra Joint Community College District, which includes Truckee, could lose $3 million if lawmakers decide more budget adjustments are necessary.

The cuts would go into effect in December.

Ambrosio’s husband, Richard Tully, owns a small business. He’s feeling the pinch, too.

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“The budget crisis has affected a lot of small businesses, and it has hit home for us,” Ambrosio said. “With less financial aid and less work, it’s making things tight.”

According to the Community College League of California, a Sacramento-based nonprofit that represents the 72 community college districts in California, possible mid-year cuts could squeeze higher education, at a time when more people are entering college to improve their skills in a difficult job market.

Scott Lay, president and CEO of the league, said his organization is assuming mid-year cuts of $332 million to community college districts to help shore up billions of dollars in state debt.

“This will require massive course cutbacks in the spring and summer course loads,” Lay said.

He and community college presidents are ready to lobby Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to protect course offerings for students who want to improve

their skills, he added.

“We’re hopefully going to tell the governor that this is not an economic stimulus plan, and it will accelerate California’s economic decline. When California’s unemployment rate goes up, we know (people) are going to be seeking community college enrollment,” Lay said. “We just don’t know if there will be space for them, if cuts have to be made.”

Per-unit cost has tripled

Sierra College has prepared for the possibility of mid-year cuts, which means classes for this spring semester may be unscathed, Nevada County Campus executive dean Neal Allbee said, “We will be able to weather that storm without having a significant impact on students,” he said.

For the spring, Allbee said he anticipates cutting about 20 class sections ” which is normal for any semester.

“We are in a good fiscal position to deal with the rest of the (current school) year,” Albee said. The next year, however, “it’s safe to say we will have greater fiscal concerns.”

That’s good news for Ambrosio, who brings her 6-year-old daughter, Asia, to school with her; she’s majoring in early childhood education. Ambrosio is taking 12 units this semester and will be taking 13 units in the spring.

Though the cost of her education has more than tripled ” classes were $11 a unit when she began in 2005 and are now $36 a unit ” she feels fortunate to be able to receive a quality education for relatively low cost, despite the growing economic pressures.

“I do appreciate a small community college like this in our town,” Ambrosio said.