Prop 30: the fine print

Editorial Board

Most of us knew Proposition 30 wouldn’t be an instant fix or a miraculous cure – indeed, the understanding was it would hardly alleviate the financial situation for community colleges at all. Instead, we were told that ‘status quo’ would be maintained – things wouldn’t get momentously better, but they wouldn’t get much worse either. Things were bleak enough as they were, so when news came that the proposition had passed, I shared a collective sigh of relief with 54 percent of California.

Initially, things seemed to go well. The education sector had managed to dodge a bullet worth $6 billion worth of budget cuts. California community colleges were granted $210 million extra for 2012-2013, allowing many colleges to add extra classes for the spring semester. (Not DVC, since for the past few years the spring semester has had more classes than the fall.) Tuition prices remained at $46 per unit, and most importantly, most of the teachers, classes and programs stayed put. Life went on.

But, like most things in politics, things were too good – or in this case, too mediocre – to be true.

Gov. Jerry Brown wants drastic changes to be made at both community and four-year colleges in order to increase efficiency and save money. Brown has proposed a 90-unit state-subsidized cap at community colleges, meaning that any class a student takes above the cap will cost $190 per semester-unit.

The 90-unit cap is not a brand new idea – in 2011, the state legislative analyst proposed not only a unit cap, but also priority registration to first-time students in an attempt promote a smoother, more efficient transfer process. According to CaliforniaWatch, almost 120,000 students in the 2009-2010 academic year, or about 5 percent, had amassed more than 90 units.

Seems logical, right? Redirect money away from under-enrolled classes to where it’s needed more and simultaneously provide an incentive for colleges to encourage students to complete courses rather than just start them and drop out. On paper, yes. But one would have to question the effects these proposals will have – not just on the budget, but on the students themselves.

Speaking generally, most community college students intend to transfer either to a UC or CSU. The completion of ‘IGETC’, the most common way to complete lower-division courses, requires about 34 units.

Then, there are the pre-major requirements, which can range from as few as nine units for an anthropology major, or as many as 41 for a physics major – and this is assuming that one not only has the proficient English and math skills to take the required courses straight away, but also knows from the start not only what they want to major it, but also what college they wish to transfer to.

While there may be students in the system who know exactly what they want to do and are using community college to save money, aren’t the majority of us trying to find our way? Perhaps we don’t know what we want to major in or maybe we didn’t have the skills or maturity to enroll at a four-year institution straight from high-school. Then there are those with double-majors, or students pursuing a second degree. In any case, 90 units doesn’t give a lot of lee-way to make those decisions.

It’s not as if Brown hasn’t realized these exceptions. Students with exceptional circumstances will be able to have the increased fee waived – although the school will not receive any extra funding from the state. In other words, it will be the college’s expense to allow you those extra units at the traditional cost of $46 – and just how likely are colleges going to be sympathetic to your plight when the money is coming straight out of their pocket?

Did we know about this ‘fine print’ before we cast our ballots last November? No. Is it likely that many people did? No. However, we can hardly claim that knowing these ‘terms and conditions’ would have changed our minds.

Proposition 30 is still a good thing – certainly better than the alternative – and the changes affect a small fraction of students. Furthermore, the proposed changes are just that – proposed.

If they go through, will it affect the ‘community’ aspect of community college? Perhaps so. But times have changed, and we’d better adapt. So to you 5-percenters, you better figure out what you’re doing in community college – and you’d better do that quickly.