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California community colleges chart historic enrollment declines

Students walk in between buildings on the East Los Angeles College campus during the first day of classes.

Enrollment at California community colleges plunged by 485,000 students in the previous three years, an unprecedented decline that could worsen if the state’s fiscal crisis continues, officials said Wednesday.

The 17% drop from about 2.9 million students in 2008-09 to about 2.4 million in 2011-12 is historic, community colleges Chancellor Jack Scott said during a telephone news briefing. The past decade’s previous low point was just under 2.5 million students in 2004-05, officials said.

The chancellor's office released a survey Wednesday quantifying the myriad problems facing the system amid deep budget cuts and great demand.

Student enrollment has been plummeting as the 112-college system has slashed class offerings in response to severe state funding cuts. During the same three year-period, course sections declined nearly 24%.

The 485,000 students lost to the system represent more than the entire enrollment of California State University’s 23 campuses (about 427,000 students), Scott said.

“It’s not because of a lack of demand,” Scott said, citing the survey results which found that more than 470,000 students this fall are on waiting lists for classes.

College leaders who joined Scott during the briefing said they were preparing to make further cuts if voters reject a tax measure on the November ballot supported by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Long Beach City College could eliminate or suspend some instructional programs, said President Eloy Ortiz Oakley, and is making $2 million in cuts this fall just to close the existing budget gap.

If the tax measure fails, “those cuts could skyrocket up to $8.4 million by January, which would make Long Beach City College look very different than it does today,” Oakley said.

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-- Carla Rivera

Photo: Students walk in between buildings on the East Los Angeles College campus during the first day of classes. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times

 
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