Education Lab

Colleges carry full load of summer students

Local community colleges once again are cutting back, but students eager for classes and bargain rates continue to pile in for the summer.

Throughout the region, districts have trimmed schedules as much as 40%, largely to conserve resources for fall and spring semesters. The state's 112 community colleges -- like other elements of higher education -- have been pinched by state budget cuts this year.

Yet, except for Fresno City College, the reduced schedules haven't translated so far into large enrollment declines for sessions that begin next month. That means class sizes are growing in some districts.

For example, College of the Sequoias in Visalia cut its summer schedule by about 25%, said Bill Scroggins, superintendent/president at COS. But enrollment has dropped less than 10%.

"Classes are more full [now] than they were last summer," Scroggins said. "I didn't think that was possible."

He and others say demand remains high as students return or remain in school because of the poor economy and job market. As registration continues for summer classes, most officials expect nearly every seat to be filled.

One new influence this year is the expense of summer classes at California State University campuses like Fresno State.

Most CSU campuses have adopted a self-supporting model for summer classes -- which means students can pay close to $300 per unit. At community colleges, students pay $26 per unit.

Briana Esquivel, 18, of Sacramento, is one students shopping for a better price. At Fresno City College on Wednesday, Esquivel was headed to see a counselor in hopes of enrolling in a math class.

Esquivel just finished her first year at Fresno State, but wanted to take the class at City College rather than the university.

"It's a lot cheaper," she said.

Frank Gornick, chancellor at West Hills Community College District, said the economy and refugees from CSU are affecting summer enrollment in the west-side district.

"All of those factors working together makes it real tight," he said. "Kids who wait until the last minute may not get anything."

West Hills cut class sections by about 40%, but enrollment has declined only about 4%, said Pedro Avila, the district's vice chancellor for institutional effectiveness and enrollment management. As a result, the average class size has grown from 28 last summer to 35 this summer.

In the State Center Community College District, summer courses have been slashed roughly 10% and enrollment is down about 9%.

Chancellor Tom Crow acknowledged that some students may be squeezed out because of the budget-driven reductions. Class sizes already have been pushed to the limit, he said.

District statistics show 85% of summer classroom seats are taken -- another measure of student demand, officials say.

Enrollment has dropped by nearly 15% at Fresno City College, which absorbed the bulk of schedule cuts. President Cynthia Azari said she expects numbers to rise as local high-schoolers graduate, out-of-area college students return home and registration continues for sessions that launch in mid-June.

Some students may not know that classes are available at City College, which has a reputation for being chronically overcrowded.

"I think we'll be pretty close to full" for the summer, Azari said. "But they need to register soon."

At City College on Wednesday, several students said finding classes was a breeze. John Lee, 19, of Fresno, said some friends complained that they were shut out, but he had no problem enrolling in two classes.

"I'm happy," he said. "It was easy."

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