Proposed $1 Billion Cut from Community Colleges

Just a short time after President Obama's call for college education to become more readily available to U.S. citizens, and in the wake of Gov. Schwarzenegger's recent visit to Santa Monica College, the looming budget crisis has hit home in our community, and at our college, in a way that may effectively destroy the hopes and aspirations of many.

According to a recent e-mail sent to the college community by Dr. Chui Tsang, superintendent and president of SMC, Gov. Schwarzenegger has proposed a new, revised budget that will cut  $26 billion from various state-funded programs and institutions. Tsang said in the e-mail that "for community colleges, the reductions total nearly $1 billion over the next 13 months, with nearly 60 percent cuts to the crucial categorical programs that serve our students who need help the most: EOPS (extended opportunity programs and services), CalGrants, and Disabled Student Services, among others."

At SMC this means that there will be cuts in the schools' general fund of $6.9 million, and reductions in categorical programs of $4.8 million. Tsang wrote of further impacts saying, "The fund reserves the College carefully built up will evaporate by the end of the 2009-10 fiscal year if we do not take action."

Steven Myrow, the dean of financial aid commented on the situation saying, "As I know it right now things are in change or in flux, I should say." He spoke specifically about certain cuts saying, "The overall plan as of this time is to eliminate the Cal Grant program." This does not mean that students who are currently benefiting from Cal Grant's are in danger of losing their aid. In reality the grants are being phased out or discontinued to new students. This will come as a large blow to prospective students in California. Myrow pointed out the quantity of students who are dependent on the program when he said; "last year (2007-2008) we had 724 students getting CalGrants. The total amount was just under $900,000." This year just fewer than 600 students at SMC are receiving CalGrants.

If this proposed budget goes into effect the Community College League of California is estimating that SMC will lose 4,621 students which will cause a nine percent decline in enrollment. However Tsang has some confidence that legislators will alter the budget before it is approved, but described the overall stature of the reductions to SMC and other colleges as "unlikely to change much."

In addition Myrow is not certain that any budget is set in stone as he said, "Every budget takes a two-thirds majority so it's tough bargaining… who knows where we're going."

 "SMC has begun to take a hard look at the implications for our campus and at painful cuts we will have to make in the 2009-10 fiscal year, which begins July 1," said Tsang.

Later in his letter he elaborated on specifics saying, "We have already taken steps to reduce supplies budgets by one percent and contracts and services by 10 percent… We are proposing to reduce class offerings, particularly in our winter session, and to initiate a hiring freeze." On top of these measures Tsang also mentioned that it may be necessary to look at additional reductions which included possibly saving on salaries as well as benefits.

Looking on the bright side of things Tsang said, "SMC is already coming together as a community to address this fiscal crisis. Our Budget Committee and District Planning & Advisory Committee, made up of representatives of all of our constituency groups, have already begun fruitful discussions."

To help get input from the college community, Tsang also announced a town hall style meeting to be held on June 10. He is hopeful that the public can come to a sort of general understanding and find solutions to the situation through "mature and professional dialogue."

One thing is certain however; this is the most severe and threatening of budget crisis's to hit California in recent or even distant memory. College enrollment has increased due to unemployment in recent terms, and now it will be seeing a downturn as funding has been cut short leaving people caught in an unemployed and uneducated limbo. The impact that this will have on Californian society as a whole remains to be seen.