Summer school at risk for Valley community colleges

State Center Community College District scrambles to add spring classes but may ax summer session.

The Fresno BeeJanuary 26, 2012 

State Center Community College District is scrambling to add mid-semester classes this spring to boost enrollments -- and state funding -- even as district officials are considering canceling summer classes.

District officials say shutting down for the summer would save money and help campuses weather budget cuts. Already, Fresno City College and Reedley College, the district's two biggest campuses, are planning to cram more students into spring courses in an apparent attempt to compensate for the loss of summer tuition.

There's another reason to add mid-semester classes this spring: Colleges discovered that enrollments were too low, which would cut state funding, some faculty say.

The rush to add classes and students marks a sharp contrast from earlier semesters of deep cuts. But the potential cancellation of summer school has left some part-time faculty concerned whether they'll have a summer paycheck and students frustrated that they may not get the classes they need to stay on track to graduate.

The new classes will start Feb. 21 at City College and will run for 12 weeks -- about six weeks shorter than the semester. Similar classes will be added at Reedley next month.

City College Interim President Tony Cantu said 150 to 200 classes will be added to the schedule, which would accommodate up to 2,000 students. The spring semester enrollment would be boosted to about 21,600.

Jothany Blackwood, dean of fine, performing and communication arts at City College, said many of the classes will be held in off-hours -- early morning, evening and weekends -- because there isn't enough classroom space on campus.

Cantu said the additional classes would "serve those students that we're not going to be able to serve during the summer."

That seems to suggest the decision to ax summer courses has been made -- even if it's not yet official. District trustees are scheduled to vote on the recommendation at their Feb. 7 meeting.

But some faculty say there's another reason for the last-minute rush to add classes -- poor planning.

The district cut too many courses in previous semesters, trying to prepare for budget reductions, and now it's trying to ramp up enrollment, said Lacy Barnes, a Reedley College instructor and senior vice president of the California Federation of Teachers.

"That's why there's this scramble to add classes," Barnes said.

Reedley College offered 127 fewer classes this school year compared to the 2010-11 school year. City College cut about 100 classes over the last year.

Blackwood warned faculty that City College would not meet its full-time student enrollment target if summer courses were canceled.

"If we don't make the target, we won't get the funds from the state we are budgeting for," she wrote in an email to faculty early Thursday that was obtained by The Bee.

The state funds community colleges at about $4,600 per full-time student per year.

State Center's enrollment is capped at 25,169 full-time students. There are actually far more students enrolled, but many are part-time. Cantu said the district's goal was to enroll even more -- about 25,400 students.

District officials would not say how far below their enrollment target they were. However, Blackwood said City College was about 470 students below target.

Teachers have been encouraged to add more students to their classes this semester and ignore class size limits.

Cantu said teachers with classes larger than 40 will be allowed to add more students -- as long as there are seats available and fire code isn't violated.

In her email, Blackwood told faculty: "If you still have students who you have not added to class because you're staying at cap, and these students are still attending class, go ahead and add these students."

The rush to add classes and students is an about-face from earlier semesters, when colleges were slashing courses and classes filled before some students could register. Cantu and Blackwood say the additional courses and fuller classes will give more students a shot at getting the classes they need.

But larger classes make learning more difficult for many students, and some say cutting summer classes will stymie students' academic plans. About 4,500 students typically enroll in the summer session at City College.

"It's extremely frustrating," said student body president Cindy Quiralte. "We are constantly penalized for not transferring in a two-year timeline, however we're not able to do so."

Quiralte said that, although there's been no official word from the district, many students already suspected there would be no summer session -- the bookstore did not order books for summer courses.

If the district shuts down for the summer, part-time faculty will be out of work for a few months.

Part-timers make up about half the City College faculty. Cantu said about 200 instructors -- part- and full-time -- teach summer courses. Part-time teachers could pick up some of the additional classes this spring to earn additional pay.

Cantu said closing down for the summer would save the district money, such as for salaries and utility bills. District officials could not provide an exact amount.

But without the revenue from student tuition in the summer, the district faces an uncertain future.

Fees were to increase $10 per unit starting this summer, the California Community College system's solution to bridge a budget gap left by December's trigger cuts.

The mid-year cuts carved $2.5 million out of State Center's $168 million annual budget, said Edwin Eng, vice chancellor of finance and administration. Community college officials said that they could weather the cuts in the spring, but the tuition hike was needed to backfill the budget in the fall.

Cantu said the district will make up for summer revenue loss by enrolling more students in the fall. That, of course, will mean more and larger classes -- much like students will see this spring.

The reporter can be reached at hsomerville@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6412.

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