Area students are flooding into community colleges for the spring semester even as campuses continue to pare classes.
California's 110 community colleges have struggled to balance ballooning enrollment with a $680 million statewide budget cut this academic year. Locally, districts have chopped budgets partly by shaving class sections and hiring fewer part-time instructors.
Despite those moves, students pushed fall enrollment to record levels at some campuses. The crush continues as officials prepare for the spring semester.
In the Fresno-based State Center Community College District, enrollment has increased nearly 3% so far compared to last spring. More than 32,200 students are enrolled in the semester that begins Monday. The district operates campuses and centers in Fresno, Reedley, Madera, Oakhurst and Clovis.
At Fresno City College -- the district's biggest campus -- enrollment is up close to 2% to 20,560 students as of Friday. That's despite a cut approaching 10% in the spring schedule.
City College President Cynthia Azari said students are filling every seat -- even in classes that are traditionally less popular.
For example, Azari said, a class in differential equations that usually draws about 25 students now has 42 students enrolled or waiting for a seat. She praised instructors for taking in as many students as possible.
Enrollment also is surging at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, which is offering 5% fewer class sections in the semester beginning Jan. 20. Monday, the college had 10,701 students enrolled -- nearly 2,400 more than were enrolled at the same time last spring.
Bill Scroggins, superintendent/president at COS, said he was surprised at the "jaw-dropping" number.
Officials built the spring schedule for about 12,800 students. He hopes the monster increase means students are signing up earlier in the process.
"I think students now know that classes fill very quickly," Scroggins said. He expects enrollment to eclipse last spring's 13,300 students.
Cuts at Fresno State are influencing the trend, Scroggins said. In July, the university closed for spring 2010 admissions -- prompting some students to stick around longer on community college campuses.
Enrollment has dipped in one district: West Hills. The district, with campuses in Coalinga and Lemoore, is behind last spring's enrollment by about 440 students.
West Hills cut about 35% of its spring class sections to manage budget cuts. Chancellor Frank Gornick said the district also is trying to save money to cushion any financial blows next year.
Like officials in other districts, Gornick expects students to pack spring classes. The semester starts Jan. 19.
"We have all the classes that students need," he said. "We just don't have that many of them."