The California Community Colleges (CCCs) have endured radical change in recent years. Tuition has spiked, budgets have been slashed and students are left in the crossfire.
In defense of the CCCs, I understand they’re under an unparalleled amount of pressure. They are desperately trying to satisfy an abundance of student needs.
They’re facing high school graduates looking to transfer out as quickly as possible, students returning to education after gaining job experience, pupils seeking English language and remedial computing classes and a sluggish group reluctantly gaining responsibilities in the real world.
In my three years at a CCC, I noticed changes of all magnitudes.
One of the most noticeable changes, and one that rings true even for UC students, was a spike in tuition.
Prior to 1984, community colleges charged no fees for classes. However, since 2009, tuition has been steadily increasing every year and is now at an all time high of $46 per unit.
While that is still well under the financial bar set by UCs, the summer of 2012 brought a 22 percent increase in tuition to the CCCs.
Twenty-two percent — compared to the zero dollars the CCCs charged just 30 years ago.
Aside from tuition, I also noticed an interesting change in the demographics of students in my classes.
CCCs have become a popular place for students to return to after gaining job experience or switching careers. It wasn’t uncommon for my classes to be filled with students in their thirties, forties or fifties.
In my time at a CCC, I also underwent the recently adjusted registration priority system. In order to compel graduation rates, incoming students are automatically disadvantaged when registering for classes.
Additionally, CCC’s have become so impacted that students aren’t allowed to make counseling appointments for the first two weeks of the semester. At my CCC, we either had to sit through endless drop-in waits or figure it out for ourselves.
After barely surviving registration, I often noted the abundance of remedial courses my community college offered while I struggled to find just four general education courses.
Logically, I understood that the CCCs needed to provide these classes. Students who failed these subjects in high school or didn’t place well in initial examinations now had a place to turn. They had the chance to work their way up through a variety of subjects as slowly as they needed to.
I met a variety of students who felt hopeless after failing high school classes, or who spent semester after semester attempting to pass seemingly remedial courses. The plethora of opportunities the CCCs provided came as a relief to them.
However, it was still frustrating to me. Why had I worked so diligently in high school just to be waitlisted in classes?
But after my pity party had commenced, I reminded myself that I was part of a newly formed demographic.
We transfer students were a fresh trend amongst the CCCs.
In the past five years, CCCs have become a growing option for many families as state and university tuition rates spike. CCCs have been intercepting students and giving families a more financially accessible option while signifying their value as an alternative route for higher education.
The Foundation for California Community Colleges discovered that almost 30 percent of UC students transferred from a CCC and over 60 percent of California’s first-time higher education students initiated their education at a CCC.
Recent budget cuts have forced CCCs to refocus their overarching priorities. CCCs can now meet a variety of needs, but can’t prioritize any one group.
As a result, transferring out of a community college has become far more difficult. It’s more expensive, it takes longer and we feel lost in the system because we can’t gain access to the tools or administrators that we need.
Overall, the largest change the CCCs have endured is the quality of its transfer students. I can attest that these students are among the elite. They beat the odds, have an unparalleled work ethic and demonstrate an undying appreciation for the opportunity of education.
So next time you meet a transfer student in one of your classes, keep in mind the barriers they’ve overcome just to be here, and keep an eye out — they’re here to succeed.
To swap stories about working your way out of a CCC, email SARAH MARSHALL at firstname.lastname@example.org.