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Community colleges need your support

Posted: November 22, 2008 7:34 p.m.
Updated: November 23, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Proposed state budget cuts may mean College of the Canyons receives several million dollars less than expected. How will this affect COC students?

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Gov. Schwarzenegger projects that by 2010, unemployment will rise to 10 percent in California, adding 400,000 people to the list of unemployed.

It is a well-documented fact that when California's economy is in trouble, when businesses are closing their doors and when more people join the ranks of the unemployed, enrollments at the state's community colleges increase dramatically so that people can get the education and training they need to get back to work.

Is it important to you to have affordable, quality, public higher education in the Santa Clarita Valley?

Is it important to you for the economy of our valley to remain strong and for local businesses to have a flexible partner to develop new training programs and to retrain their workers?

Is it important to you to keep jobs in the Santa Clarita Valley at a time when unemployment is on the rise?

Is it important to you that College of the Canyons is here for you, your children and your employees?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you need to get involved!

On Tuesday the Legislature is expected to vote on the governor's latest budget proposal. How legislators vote will greatly impact California's ability to recover from our current economic crisis.

Once again, the proposals on the table attempt to fix a statewide problem with massive cuts to the community colleges, a foolish, short-term solution that will lead to devastating, irreversible long-term losses for our communities and our state.

The proposal currently on the table includes massive mid-year cuts for community colleges of $332 million (estimated to be $4.1 million for College of the Canyons), during the current fiscal year and resulting in a permanent cut in future years.

While general belt-tightening is required of all agencies that rely on state funds, I am concerned that the cuts proposed by the governor will result in profound impacts on the businesses and citizens who rely on our services.

I urge you to contact our legislators today and tomorrow, and ask them to minimize the cuts to community colleges because:

n In the fall 2008 semester, our college experienced 17 percent growth. The state budget did not provide funds for all of these additional students, and if this continues into winter and spring, we anticipate 503 course sections not being funded - translating to more than 12,000 students.

n The governor's proposed cuts could force community colleges to turn away more than 272,000 additional students during the winter and spring 2009 sessions. A $4.1 million hit to College of the Canyons means 667 upcoming classes would have to be cut.

n The college's Economic Development Division has served 2,404 businesses and trained 14,004 local employees in the last 10 years. Funding reductions will have significant impacts on our ability to help businesses revitalize. The role your community college plays in this vital area is of inestimable value to our community.

Community colleges currently serve 2.8 million students, and the number is growing daily. By contrast, the California State University System currently serves fewer than 500,000 students and the Universities of California serve about 220,000 students.

Community colleges serve four times the number of students as the UC's and CSU's combined! More importantly, it is not the mission of the UC's and CSU's to provide critical workforce and job-skill training.

That is the role of the 110 community colleges, and we are very good at fulfilling those roles.

Ironically, state funding formulas for higher education provide $5,400 for each full-time community college student; $11,624 for each student at a CSU; and $18,203 for each student at a UC.

With freshman and sophomore requirements nearly identical across the three systems, this disparity of funding has placed heavy financial burdens on community colleges.

When the governor's latest proposal was announced, the CSU system promptly announced it would turn away 10,000 students who would otherwise be accepted.

Many of those students will turn to community colleges, increasing the demand.

You know the important role that your community college plays in educating young people in our valley, training employees for area businesses and providing a lifeline to those people whose businesses have closed or who have lost their jobs.

With this training, residents will learn new job skills so they can get back to work, make money, pay their mortgages, and contribute to the local and state economy.

The data shows that people with two years of education earn 30 percent more than those with just a high school diploma. After just a few years, that increases to 60 percent more than those with just a high school diploma.

More money earned equates to greater spending power, and greater spending power drives the economic recovery. Equally important is the role your college plays in training people for critical jobs such as nursing, firefighting, law enforcement and many other fields.

Don't wait. The time to act is now! Tell our legislators that you know access to education and training at community colleges is an important part of the solution to the state's economic woes.

We are affordable, we are accessible, we are flexible and we are the best investment the state can make to help fuel a turnaround.

Help us avoid a short-term, temporary solution that will have long-term devastating effects on you, your family and or economy.

For assistance in communicating with local legislators, please visit the college's Web site at www.canyons.edu.

Click on "fight state budget cuts" and follow the prompts. By taking action now, you may help prevent the economic crisis from getting even worse!

Dianne Van Hook is chancellor of College of the Canyons. Her column reflects her own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.

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