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Community Colleges in Crisis

Community Colleges in Crisis
As the state budget crisis deepens and deep cuts are made to the UC and CSU systems, there is increased pressure on the already-stressed community colleges. We look at how the San Diego Community College District is coping with the stress and what it means for prospective students and their families.

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

DOUG MYRLAND (Guest Host): Good morning. I'm Doug Myrland, sitting in for Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. As the state budget crisis deepens and deep cuts are possibly made to the UC and CSU systems, there's increased pressure on the already stressed community colleges. So in this first segment, we're going to look at how the San Diego Community College District may be coping with that stress and what it might mean for prospective students and their families. And our guest in studio is Constance Carroll. She's the Chancellor of the San Diego Community College District. Dr. Carroll, welcome to KPBS.

DR. CONSTANCE CARROLL (Chancellor, San Diego Community College District): Thank you very much, Doug.

MYRLAND: I want to get into a bunch of big picture questions but first I want to ask you just a little bit about you. I was curious, when I looked at your bio, that you were a classics major. In fact, that's what your Ph.D. is in, in classics, and then all of a sudden, you got into administration. How'd you move from being a classics major to an administrator?

DR. CARROLL: Well, if you know anything about the classics job market, you know that there isn't any. So I went into administration immediately from graduate school. The classics, actually—here's my plug—is excellent preparation for people in administration because there's some good examples of how large budget issues and large catastrophes have been handled by the ancient Greeks, particularly, and if there's time in the program, I'll share one with you.

MYRLAND: Good. Well, you were, just previously to becoming chancellor of the district, the president at Mesa College, which is one of the three colleges in the district.

DR. CARROLL: Yes, I was president there for eleven years. And before that I was president of Saddleback College in Mission Viejo for ten years, and before that I was president of a college in Marin County for six years, so I've been in the system since 1977.

MYRLAND: Well, I'm going to ask you to describe what the community colleges mean in general to our state but first I want to play back a comment that former UC president Bob Dynes made about the community colleges on this program on Monday.

DR. ROBERT DYNES (Former President, University of California): I have to say that one of the really important ways that students can access the University of California and the CSU is through the community college system and that's one of the miracles of the California Master Plan system. So even if students cannot get into the University of California or CSU, the avenue through the CSU or through the community college systems is a remarkable avenue to be educated in California.

MYRLAND: So that's a terrific endorsement but it also, I think, demonstrates the pressure that's going to be on the community colleges as more and more people want access to education. So what's your take on the state of the miracle of the community college system these days?

DR. CARROLL: Well, first of all, Bob Dynes mentioned something extremely important. He mentioned the master plan which was passed in 1960 by a very progressive legislature, governor, led by the former UC President Clark Kerr. And what it did was carve out a destiny for UC, CSU and community colleges in which community colleges were to be the open access ladder through which California's population could move into higher education. That has worked enormously well over the decades until recently when funding issues have threatened all of the segments of higher education. So the community colleges have continued, I think, to live up to their – the level expected of them in the master plan. Right now, over two-thirds of the graduates of the Cal State University system are community college transfer students, so we're playing the role. The problem now is the pressure we all face to downsize as the result of the shrinking California budget.

MYRLAND: Well, I was looking at your proposed budget for this coming…


MYRLAND: …fiscal year. It's online. And you approved that proposed budget, I believe, on June 11th, at least that's what the date is on the…

DR. CARROLL: Correct.

MYRLAND: …on the Power Point. And I noticed that you've only been able to budget for one percent growth and there's a note there that says if there are any more cuts, you may have to actually have negative growth. So how can you only have one percent growth when you know that you're going to have an increased pressure of students coming to you because the CSU and the UC systems are not going to be able to admit as many people?

DR. CARROLL: Correct, and you've – It's an excellent, excellent question. You've put your finger on the central problem we face, and that is that the institutions are paid, compensated, for a certain number of students. And if an institution educates more than that number of students, they are not supported for that. This is why San Diego State has cut back and this is why Cal State San Marcos has cut back, and this is why the community colleges have cut back. The state budget has already changed and the one percent growth funding is already gone, so the state has told us two things for next year: We will not be paid beyond a certain amount for our enrollment increase, and we will not be paid for any growth. For the San Diego District, that means that we are about 1600 full time equivalent students above where we will need to be in order to be compensated, and that is the reason we've been cutting classes. We're cutting classes not because of – we can't meet student need but because we will not be supported for teaching those classes.

MYRLAND: So the way you mange the population is not by turning anybody down, just by not offering the classes that they might want.

DR. CARROLL: That's exactly correct. Our classes fill almost immediately. And we're urging everyone, when fall semester registration starts, I believe on July second, that registering early is the key to getting the classes that you want because the competition is going to be quite intense, not only because we have had to cut back the number of classes but also the universities around us have cut back, and the other community colleges have cut back.

MYRLAND: Now you have programs in place where students can, if they successfully complete the program at the community college, be guaranteed admission into San Diego State. Are those classes sometimes ones that get cut?

DR. CARROLL: No, we try to protect and do protect our core mission, and our guaranteed transfer tracks to UCSD, to San Diego State, Cal State San Marcos and other institutions are what we protect first for transfer students. We also protect core programs in the vocational programs to make sure that students in nursing get their complete sequence, and students in physical therapy get their complete sequence, and in all of our other engineering and vocational programs. So what we've been doing is trying to preserve our core courses as much as possible, given the pressure from the state to make reductions.

MYRLAND: We're speaking with Dr. Constance Carroll. She's the Chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, and that includes City College, Mesa College and Miramar College. Dr. Carroll, I was also noticing in your budget that you're offering no cost of living increases. You are also talking about basically not hiring any new faculty at all. Does this cause – these budget difficulties cause you to use more part time, more causal kinds of faculty and part time instructors?

DR. CARROLL: Absolutely, yes. We have a situation that is the same as the universities and all other community colleges. First of all, we have a strong philosophy in our district, that our board has and all of us have, and that is if we have to reduce personnel—and our budgets are mainly personnel—it's better to do so by attrition, by hiring freezes, by taking and defunding vacancies than by harming people, who are in the jobs, through layoffs. So we are as close to a no-layoff district as you can possibly get. We want to protect our core staff. That means that then as staff resignations and vacancies occur, they are simply not replaced. They're not replaced at all and, if they are, it will be a part time or adjunct people. I need to say that all of our labor unions—we have nine labor unions and two meet-and-confer groups—all of our faculty and staff and administrators and, of course, our board are together in that particular goal that we have. The cost of living, the state did not provide a cost of living increase this year, they will not provide a cost of living increase next year. And we have a mature bargaining agreement which basically says that salary increases will be made only if there are cost of living agreements. So, unlike the state, we have indexed our salary increases and our personnel increases to the amount of revenue that we receive, and that's why we stay in balance as we're California's second largest community college district with, at all times, a fully balanced budget.

MYRLAND: So you have a situation where you are having students not be able to get the classes that they want. What will happen to those students who can't get into their classes? Do they make other selections? Do they compromise? Do they go away and come back in a semester? What’s the impact of – in the population of the state with those folks who just can't go to school? What other choices do they make?

DR. CARROLL: California has created a crisis for itself. In community colleges, rising unemployment is always in correlation to rising enrollments in community colleges. California has cut the entire educational sector with the result that all California community colleges will turn away, it's estimated, 250,000 students in the coming year, 250,000 Californians. That's on top of the universities turning away students. Some of the students will go to work if they can find a job in this economy. Other students, we have found, have simply left the state. You would be amazed at how many other states are now recruiting students from California. So at some point this public policy crisis needs to be resolved because California is not living up to its promise to educate its citizens to the degree to which they need to be educated.

MYRLAND: Now we have a system in California of a lot of community college districts. Each district, such as the San Diego Community College District, is its own, separate political subdivision. You all have boards of trustees or boards of governors, whatever they're called at the various districts. Is this really an efficient system? Or should there be some conversation about consolidating and having fewer districts?

DR. CARROLL: We – This has come up from time to time. In some areas, districts probably could be consolidated but we have, in California, 72 community college districts, each with an elected board of either five or seven people. If you take a look at the San Diego region, some of the largest community college organizations are in that region. Our district already educates about 120,000 students. That's larger than some whole university systems, so consolidating it with any other district in the county would be difficult. You would probably save very little in so doing, and you would lose the good feature of community colleges which is the local control and local flavor that comes from an accountable, locally elected board.

MYRLAND: And does each community college district set its own fee structure? Or are there statewide restrictions on how much you can charge for classes?

DR. CARROLL: The system of community colleges has a statewide board of governors who are appointed by the governor, just as are the Board of Regents of UC or the Board of Trustees of CSU. And the fee structure is set not by even our system, it's set by the legislature. One of the issues right now is the enrollment fee or tuition, which currently is $20.00 a unit. Members of the legislature and the conference committee have proposed that it go to $26.00 a unit. That is not something that the local community college districts can decide or effect. That's a legislative matter.

MYRLAND: Now as you communicate with the legislators and you talk about making your case to get your share of the state budget, do you anticipate that most community colleges are going to communicate that they think this $26.00 increase is a positive thing? Is it part of the solution to the problem?

DR. CARROLL: It's very controversial. We work together as a system. The system proposed $22.00, which everyone supported as an increase, up from $20.00. That would have been a ten percent increase. Most of us support the $26.00 increase, which is, of course, the recommendation of the budget conference committee, because of this fact: that the revenue from it would come back to the community colleges and help offset some of the other cuts. Currently, the revenue from the enrollment fee goes into the state general fund and we never see it locally. So in return for the increase, our being able to keep it is seen as a good feature. The other feature is the $26.00 is a fee that students have paid before. Two years ago, the enrollment fee was $26.00 a unit. And if it settles at that point, and we hope it does, we hope it doesn't go higher, it will still be the lowest community college enrollment fee in the United States of any sector of education so California community colleges will still be the best economic bargain in the country.

MYRLAND: Will it solve most of your budget problems if you get that money flowing back here and the fee is increased to $26.00 a credit?

DR. CARROLL: It will solve only some. The budget cuts that we have been assigned, that have been assigned to our system and assigned to our colleges, are severe. Our budget, our total budget, is $800 million dollars. Our general fund budget is a little over $200 million. We have already been cutting up to the $20 million mark and beyond, so it looks like we're going to have about a 12% to 15% cut of our operating budget. That is enormous. UC and CSU are suffering the same types of impacts. The enrollment fee will give us a fraction of the money back to offset some of our cuts but certainly it will not make an enormous difference.

MYRLAND: You already said that you've instituted a program of attrition, not replacing full time faculty…


MYRLAND: …with other full time faculty. What's next in terms of find that other 12%?

DR. CARROLL: Well, we're on our way to finding that. We have eliminated some vendor contracts. We've cut classes. We are making a lot of other expenditure reductions and we – our plan currently totals $20 million. If we need to go beyond that then we will have to look at other large ticket items. There are some community colleges that cut their summer programs this year. We've cut ours back by one-third but we'll have to discuss whether or not we can afford to operate whole programs such as Summer. We are probably going to cut our intercession program because what we want to do is play to strength. We want to offer things in a high quality manner rather than spread our resources too thin, so you will see that we will be cutting back but sharpening up and bulking up some of our programs but some of them will go by the wayside.

MYRLAND: What about private fundraising, grant making? I know in a university like the typical UC system university they have very active development programs. Do you seek a lot of private funding that way?

DR. CARROLL: We do. Most of our external funding comes in the form of financial aid. We also have an endowment, and we have other sources of revenue. Due to the generosity of the public, we have two major bond programs that are underway. Otherwise, we would not have the funding we need to build the new facilities that are going up so quickly.

MYRLAND: You mentioned the bond program and that's another question I wanted to get to, and that is, you have funds available to build some buildings but do you have the money to maintain those buildings in the budget you're getting.

DR. CARROLL: Yes, that – Yes, that was a requirement. We budgeted up front for the maintenance of those buildings but about three years from now we will have to make some other adjustments. And we intend to lease some of our surplus property in order to have an income stream aimed exactly at maintenance of those facilities, so we do have plans in place for all of that. What we don't have and what we desperately need is an ongoing sum of money that's stable from the State of California. Because with fundraising and grants and bequests, all of that is one-time money, and the State of California needs to solve its budget crisis once and for all in an ongoing comprehensive manner. This is what our problem is. It's not the one-time infusion, it's the ongoing infusion, it's the difference between a bonus and a salary. One doesn't base one's mortgage and lifestyle on bonuses but on the ongoing salary. And California has yet to solve this problem of its own revenue situation, and until it does, all of its institutions will be threatened.

MYRLAND: Now I'm assuming that you look to your governing board to help with this lobbying effort.

DR. CARROLL: Oh, yes.

MYRLAND: When you take the retreat with the governing board and you talk about the messages you want to send to the legislature, what is it that – what are the talking points there?

DR. CARROLL: Well, the large talking points are that the budget needs to be balanced in a combination of expenditure reductions, cuts, and revenue enhancement. This budget is too large – the budget problem in this state is too large for us to simply cut our way out of. And we are caught between forces that want to restrict cuts and restrict revenue at the same time, and that combination is deadly. So our board members, our board president Rich Grosh, particularly, and I, along with some of our faculty leaders and our union leaders, frequently—and student leaders—go to Sacramento to discuss this with our legislators. We are very pleased with the leadership of some of our delegation from San Diego. The budget conference committee was co-chaired by Denise Ducheny. Senator Ducheny is a former member of our board. She gets it. And this is why I think the budget conference committee came up with a very responsible set of recommendations that we hope will prevail. But they're already being viewed as controversial and this may not be the end of the budget saga so at some point, it – California needs a stable system of funding.

MYRLAND: Well, our guest has been Dr. Constance Carroll, the Chancellor of the San Diego Community College system. And, Dr. Carroll, I know you're going to have a stressful summer but I hope you also have an enjoyable one, at least part the time.

DR. CARROLL: Well, thank you so much.

MYRLAND: And thank you for joining us. You're listening to These Days in San Diego.