With the passage of Propositions 57 and 58, voters gave Governor Schwarzenegger the go-ahead to begin his move for a balanced budget, but while the governor’s measures have received widespread support from community colleges, that doesn’t mean the Yuba Community College District is safe from budget problems of its own.One threat is that cuts to community colleges may be put on the agenda for the May revise of the state budget.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office reported that a $4 billion deficit will result under the current plan, even if all of the governor’s assumptions are correct and no major budget threats materialize.
Michael Dencavage, the Vice President of Business Services for the Yuba Community College District, said such a deficit could pose a problem for community colleges.
“There will have to be either expenditure reductions at the state level or revenue enhancements: taxes,” Dencavage said.
Public resistance to tax increases makes the latter solution unlikely, however, and means cuts will have to be made to resolve the deficit.
Proposition 56, the measure that would have allowed passage of tax bills with a 55 percent vote of the Legislature rather than the two-thirds vote required now, was rejected by 66 percent of voters on March 2. The failure of Proposition 56 underscored the opposition to tax increases.Yet while tax hikes are increasingly unlikely, the governor’s proposed cuts also face trouble in the legislature, which could mean a deeper deficit for the state.
According to a State Budget Update from the Community College League of California, the Legislature has already rejected many of the Governor’s proposed cuts, including $400 million from the Department of Corrections to be specified in May.
The governor’s agreement with K-12 schools and community colleges also came under fire, the Budget Update reported, because “the Legislature was not part of the agreement, and many legislators were quite frustrated with parties to the agreement. The agreement, they thought, was too generous to education while many other programs are being cut.”
Another potential problem for students is that part of the governor’s plan for community colleges includes increased fees for all students, increasing from $18 to $26 for undergraduates and from $26 to $50 for graduate students.
“The governor has maintained that community colleges in California, compared to the rest of the nation, are fairly inexpensive,” Dencavage said, “but when you see that type of dramatic increase over a very short period of time, I think it has a real negative impact on the students.”Yet increased student fees do nothing to better fund Yuba College.
“It’s important to realize that those fees don’t really stay with the college, they simply offset state aid,” Dencavage said. “For every dollar more in fees, we get a dollar less in state General Fund support.”
The upside to the fee increase is that needy students who qualify for Pell grants will be able to receive the maximum in federal aid, which is $4,050 for full-time students in 2004-2005.
These state budget issues come at a time when the Yuba Community College District will also have to address declining enrollments.State funding for community colleges is based on Full-Time Equivalent Students enrolled the prior year. Exceeding the funded cap for FTES enrollments means the college will not be funded for students enrolled over the cap and falling below the FTES base means the college can lose funds as part of a declining enrollment adjustment.
A report from the Office of Research and Assessment comparing March 5 census date enrollments district-wide showed a drop in enrollments in Spring 2004 to 9,148 students, down from 10,183 students in Spring 2003, a 10.2 percent decrease. Since the figures showed a definite decline, the district will have to take action to avoid a declining enrollment adjustment from the state.
The current system gives community colleges one year to make up for declining enrollments. If the college can meet its FTES base the year following declining enrollments, no adjustment will be applied. Dencavage said that the college used to have three years to make up the decline, but the new procedure gives only a one-year window.
The drop in enrollments this year means the college will have to make up its FTES in 2005-2006. Since Summer enrollments can be counted toward either the previous or the following year, Dencavage said, the district will probably fold both Summer 2004 and Summer 2005 into the 2005-2006 enrollments to ensure it meets its FTES base for next year and avoid a declining enrollment adjustment. Doing so would limit the district’s options if enrollments decline in 2006-2007, however, so Dencavage said he hopes enrollments will improve next year.
Asked whether the proposed 10 percent redirection of California State University and University of California freshmen to community colleges would have a significant impact on enrollments in the Yuba Community College District, Dencavage said it was too soon to tell.
A disturbing trend in the district is that low enrollments tend to mean fewer courses. The report from the Office of Research and Assessment showed a decrease in total sections of classes offered in the district from Spring 2003, when 1,622 sections were offered, to Spring 2004, when the total number of sections was 1,169.
During that time, enrollments decreased by approximately 10.2 percent, according to the report, yet section offerings declined by 28 percent in the same time period.
If this trend holds, students will see further class reductions next semester as the current economic uncertainty of the state puts the cash crunch on the district.