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State governing board over community colleges rethinks enrollment methods

Under new rule students with less than 100 units given priority
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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The way students register for classes at California community colleges is being examined for potential changes by a statewide governing board.

Jasmin Kissinger, 21, sat waiting for an appointment in the counseling office at Sierra College in Rocklin Tuesday. The Grass Valley native is taking classes at Sierra to work her way up to a master's in speech therapy.

Now that Kissinger has some classes under her belt, registering every semester has gotten easier, but it hasn't always been that way. Priority is currently given to students with more units under their belt than freshmen and some underclassmen.

"It was really difficult getting into classes at first because I was low priority and things filled up really quickly," Kissinger said.

That might change if the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges decides to approve changes to the rules it is considering regarding when certain students can and can't register for classes. The idea to change the way community colleges approach enrollment priority is one of many suggestions made by the Student Success Taskforce last January.

The community college panel met Tuesday to hear the first reading of the proposed rule change, opening a comment period on the proposed changes that lasts until Aug. 17. The panel will hear a second reading of the rule and potentially vote on it at its meeting in September.

According to a summary of the proposed rule change, students who already get top priority when it comes to registering for classes will not be affected if the changes pass. Students who are in the military, are veterans, or foster youth or former foster youth fall under this priority and will still get to register first.

Amber Vore, 19, of Plumas Lake, is studying at Sierra to enter its nursing program eventually. She falls under first priority, as her father signed his G.I. Bill over to her and her sister for college.

"I've been lucky enough to get first-day registration," Vore said. "I've had pretty good luck when it comes to registering."

Second priority would also still go to students with disabilities and students who have low income or are educationally disadvantaged.

The main changes to the enrollment rules would impact students who have 100 units or more under their belt. Those students are currently given higher priority when it comes to registering for classes, but under the new rule students with less than 100 units would be able to register before those with 100 units.

Students who have been on academic probation for two consecutive semesters will also be bumped back in terms of registering for classes.

Paul Feist, vice chancellor for communications with the state Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, said class offerings at the California's 112 community colleges have slipped dramatically in recent years because of budget cuts.

The community college system budget has been cut by 12 percent, or $809 million, over the last four years. These budget cuts and the shrinking amount of course offerings eventually led to a 300,000-student decrease in community college populations across the board.

"Current law and practice gives advantage to continuing students based on accrual of units, so as a result of budget cuts we had students who were accruing lots of units, sometimes in excess of what needed for associates degrees, and they were crowding out other students," Feist said.

Mandy Davies, vice president of student services at Sierra College, said she can get behind lessening priority for students with 100 or more units. The rule change would include an appeal process for students who are pursuing degrees that require higher amounts of units and would not count against students who accrue more units due to courses they've taken in English as a Second Language.

Davies said that implementing the rule changes could be complicated, especially the part involving students who have been on academic probation for two semesters because of the delay in getting final grades processed.

Since students tend to get their grades for a previous semester after they've registered for classes for the upcoming semester, such a punishment would have to be put off until the following semester.

"By the time they get penalized they might have had a good semester," Davies said. "Try to explain that to a very angry student."

Not all of the proposed rule changes would place certain students on lower priority. One portion of the proposed rule change would enable new students to register earlier if they complete orientation, specific entrance assessments, and develop a plan for their academic future, like transferring to a four-year institution or earning a degree, according to the summary report.

Though Davies recognizes how some of the proposed changes could help students, she said registration is going to continue to be a challenge as long as budgetary constraints continue to lessen the amount of courses offered at community colleges.

She offered the current Aug. 5 deadline for registering for fall classes at Sierra. Plenty of time still remains for registration, but classes are 98 percent full.

"The challenge for me is that they can change regulations at the state level to reorder or reprioritize who gets to register first, but I equate this to moving the deck chairs on the Titanic," Davies said. "When we're not getting paid enough to offer basic English, math, history and biology classes, it doesn't matter who you put first, second or third if you don't have enough classes to offer."

The Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges will meet again in September to hear the second reading of the proposed rule change. If passed, it could be implemented at state community colleges by 2014.

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.