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California Budget Crisis Slams Community Colleges

Each day the news media bombards us with dire financial news, on both the state and national levels. Its toll on our educational system continues to unfold, but it is clear that the impact will be significant. The current California budget crisis is having a profound effect on planning and programming at both the community college and the university level. Unfortunately, Santa Ana College is not immune to the crisis.

On December 3, the Associated Press observed, “As public colleges grapple with reductions in state funding, the prospect of reduced access to higher education is looking more likely. The mammoth California State University system, with 450,000 students has announced plans to reduce its head count by up to 10,000 students for the next school year. The University of California system has warned of a similar reduction.” It continued to speculate that tuition increases are also on the drawing board. “Together the pressures are threatening to restrict access to higher education at a time when the economic crisis is driving more Americans to seek new degrees or additional training, a common reaction in a downturn.”

“Everybody is worried,” observed Santa Ana College (SAC) President Erlinda Martinez, in a December 7 Orange County Register story. “The uncertainty is palpable across the campus.” The matriculation policy at Santa Ana College has always been to stretch its capacity to welcome as many students as possible, with or without state reimbursement which allows for 1% growth. Last year SAC’s growth was significantly higher, according the Vice President of Academic Affairs Norm Fujimoto. “This year we can no longer accommodate unfunded students,” he said, “and the school had to make the uncomfortable decision to cancel its popular intersession classes, which many students relied upon to pick up a needed requirement for graduation.” Student body president Alex Flores says that this will force many students to stay in school an additional quarter in order to earn their degrees.

Fujimoto pointed to other cost-saving measures SAC is turning to. Cutting back on supplies, not replacing equipment, reducing the number of classes, cutting 10% of the spring schedule and reducing the use of part-time instructors are some of the strategies the school is putting into play. The impact on students and faculty will be profound, he projects. Full-time students won’t be able to get the number of hours or the classes that they need, because they will be full. The variety of classes offered will diminish. Full-time teachers will not be allowed to teach additional classes for extra compensation.

Flores says that the proposed tuition increase from $20 per unit to $26 or $30 will present a hardship to many students. Also, the reduction in the number of classes will keep students in school longer and will not allow them the luxury of exploring new subjects—perhaps finding that surprise, ideal career fit. They will need to approach their education in a much focused, planned manner.

“We’re trained as educators, and that is where our hearts and passion are,” says Fujimoto, “but we now have to make very challenging business decisions. Everyone is discouraged, but trying to stay positive. I’m proud of our faculty and staff. People are taking on extra jobs, trying to make this situation work for our students.”

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Dr. Julio Caceres

In his native Colombia, Dr. Julio Caceres was regarded as a prominent dentist and a union leader. As president of the state chapter of his national union, he became embroiled in challenges to the social security system. He was also on the union’s national leadership committee. Several harrowing events in an increasingly violent situation made it clear that his life was in danger. A hasty departure was necessary.

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