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Access denied for many Sierra College students

Officials say state budget stalemate making enrollment issues worse
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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It’s only the second day of class but already Sierra College administrators have a difficult math problem to solve. With state legislators still fighting over budget issues, students at the Placer County community college are starting to feel literally shut out. “The budget stalemate has a very dramatic impact on lots of different people including our students,” Leo Chavez, president of Sierra College in Rocklin said Monday. “It also impacts those of us who have to make decision because we have no context to make a decision.” School officials are reporting that many classes, especially math and English courses, have been filled since the beginning of summer. When asked if more students are being turned away this year, Chavez said, “absolutely.” “Early in the summer we saw the fall schedule was deeply impacted in critical areas,” Chavez said. “The only way to add classes is to cancel others.” Chavez said the school has only canceled a very limited number of classes, which means the college currently cannot accommodate all of the enrollment requests. Biology and deaf studies major Sydney Slater, 19, said enrolling in classes is a little easier now that she is a second-year student. “I have so many units it’s easy for me but I know it’s hard for students who don’t have a lot of units,” Slater said. “I had problems in the beginning getting into science classes.” Chavez said the main reason for the problems is the school doesn’t know what kind of funding it will receive. “The issue at this point is uncertainty,” Chavez said. “If we knew what we had, we’d take more risks.” He explained that the college typically takes in more students than the state reimburses it for. In past years, the college has received about 1.5 percent for growth when its growth is actually about 5 percent each year. Chavez said the growth rate is higher than the state reimbursement because “everyone cooperates.” He explained that teachers take in one or two more students than the limit to try to ease the demand. Microbiology professor Sasha Warren was teaching one of her first biology classes of the year Monday morning. She said earlier in the morning she had 20 students trying to get into an already full 100-person section. “I can only overfill by four students,” Warren said. “It’s usually always like that. We have as many classes as we possibly can there’s just not enough space.” Chavez said that those extra allowances may be one of many things taking a hit in the near future. “Now we’re at the point where it may not be prudent to add more sections,” Chavez said. Chavez added that the school still does not have funding from last year’s budget, this year’s or does it know next year’s budget outcome. “I think it’s irresponsible,” Chavez said of the budget stalemate. “What about other areas where it’s critical? Here we’re talking about a massive inconvenience.” In Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most recent proposed budget, Chavez said there is no cost-of-living adjustment figure. That could mean a 3.5 percent cut for the school. In the meantime, Chavez said the school is doing its best to plan as much as possible. “What we’re trying to do is preserve the integrity of our programs and serve as many students as we can,” Chavez said. Pre-nursing student Quincey Clark said he’s found it hard to schedule some of the classes he wanted. He said signing up for early morning courses was his only solution. The 36-year-old student made a career change a few years ago from firefighting to nursing because he said he was looking for more stability. “I like nursing and it’s a growing field,” Clark said. “The only problem is everyone knows that so classes are always full.” Clark does have another solution to taking high-demand courses. “I try to sit near the front of the lecture hall so I see less students. If I’m in the back, the classroom looks packed,” Clark said. Packed classes are going to be a continuing trend at the college, Chavez said. Given the current economy, more and more students and parents are opting to save money by starting at a two-year community college instead of starting at a four-year institution. “When the fees at four-years go up, they’re told to go to a community college where they’re denied access,” Chavez said. “It’s a catch-22.” The Journal’s Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment.