Just as more residents are turning to the City College of San Francisco for retraining and additional education, the school is slashing hundreds of classes to offset millions in budget cuts.

For some students unable to get into classes, this means their academic progress will be stymied. For others it threatens their financial aid, scholarship awards or residency status.

This year about 800 classes from across the City College system will be canceled — 270 this semester and as many as 530 in the spring — forcing students to compete for seats and other limited resources. The cuts were made to close the college’s $18 to $20 million budget shortfall.

At the Mission campus, 10 courses were cut, of which half are noncredit courses serving residents learning English as a second language, adults seeking retraining or job skills, and those seeking high school degrees.

The administration has asked donors to reinstate classes for the spring semester at a cost of $6,000 per class. So far 10 classes have been sponsored, said Martha Lucey, public information officer with City College. The school hopes to raise $5 million before the spring semester.

Meanwhile, the crunch is being felt on every campus.

“There are simply too many people,” said Zuny Rivera, a returning student at the Mission campus.

While the Guatemalan immigrant had hoped to enroll in at least two noncredit English as a Second Language courses, she felt relieved when she found space in one.

“People were being turned away on the first day of class. The teacher said there simply wasn’t any more room,” Rivera said outside the English testing room.
More than 32,200 students were registered in credit courses as of Sept. 14. Noncredit students are counted at the end of the semester.

Carlota Del Portillo, dean of the Mission campus, said the situation is not expected to improve next semester.

“We’re in a sad shape. Really, in a sad shape,” Portillo said. “We are a gateway to a four-year university. This really hurts society at large.”

The problem is not unique to City College.

Community colleges across California are experiencing a hike in new enrollments while struggling to provide services with less state funding. For the 2008-09 academic year, community colleges saw an increase of 135,000 students, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. That brings the total enrollment for two-year colleges in this state to 2.9 million.

At the same time, colleges saw $840 million in state funding cuts for the 2008-09 and 2009-10 academic years combined.

Spring transfer halts at San Francisco State University, City College’s main feeder school, and a surge in unemployment has created additional challenges. Nancy Vargas, counselor at the Mission campus, said she is seeing many working adults return for retraining or to earn a vocational degree.

“The need and demand for counseling has tripled,” Vargas said.

The first day of school in August resembled a game of musical chairs in which students moved from class to class hoping to secure an empty spot. LeighAnn Reo, a finance student at the Mission campus, said her history professor told the class that students who were registered but did not show up for the first day were dropped.

“They’re getting stricter on the drop policy,” Reo said. “They want to know that you want to be there.”

Some students have found they have to be open to taking any class to meet the 12-unit requirement that classifies them as full time. Most federal and state financial assistance, such as Cal Grants, require that students take at least 12 units.

Laura Mezirka, secretary for the School of Science and Mathematics, encountered several students who had resigned themselves to taking weekend courses.
“Some students are saying, ‘I don’t care what class it is, I just need to enroll in one,” she said.

One desperate student signed up for a child development class on Saturdays even though it was not her area of studies to meet financial aid eligibility.

“When they can’t get their classes, it affects everything. They don’t have visa coverage; [they] can’t get into their parents’ insurance,” said Mezirka.

Cuts in highly subscribed subjects, such as math, will likely cause significant academic setbacks for many.

That department canceled eight classes, all in the Ocean campus, resulting in approximately 300 fewer students taking math courses. The department has 60 instructors serving 6,000 students each semester.

Students who can’t find open math courses in the main campus are directed to the Mission and Southeast satellite campuses, further exacerbating the problem at those locations.

“Almost every student, no matter what their career goals are, is affected by the cuts in math classes,” said Dennis Piontkowski, chair of the math department at City College. “Even before there were cutbacks, we were turning away over 2,000 students who wanted to enroll in math courses.”