Local News

Tuesday, Jan 17 2012 01:05 PM

BC enrollment down as cuts take their toll

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Bakersfield College student Alisa Rinehart plays a game on her smart phone while waiting for a friend at the college. Classes have started back up at the college after the holiday break. Enrollment is down for the second consecutive semester due to budget cuts that have slashed course offerings.

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BY JORGE BARRIENTOS Californian staff writer jbarrientos@bakersfield.com

Spring semester classes started at Bakersfield College Tuesday with some 1,500 fewer students than the same time last year -- the second straight semester of decreased enrollment.

College officials blamed state budget cuts for the drop, saying they've had to scale back course offerings. Most of the courses that are available are full and wait-listed.

"Bakersfield College simply cannot meet the demand under the current economic climate," said Greg Chamberlain, BC president, in a statement.

The new trend follows five years of increased enrollment as the plummeting economy drove prospective and returning students to community colleges in pursuit of new job opportunities.

Classes offered this spring at BC are down by 103 from last spring to 1,614. As a result, enrollment is down 8.7 percent from last spring to 16,631 students. That's 1,578 fewer students.

College officials believe students might be pursuing educational opportunities at local for-profit colleges, which have slots open but are more expensive.

Students are paying more at BC now, too -- per unit fees rose from $26 to $36 last fall, and could rise again by $10 per unit.

The bad news could continue as BC is expecting a $2 million budget cut for the 2012-13 school year. As a whole, higher education in California has been cut $2 billion this fiscal year, state college officials said.

While Cal State Bakersfield is also feeling the effects of state budget cuts -- rising tuition, larger class sizes and fewer faculty -- the university saw 12 percent more freshman applications for its fall quarter compared to last fall -- 5,625 applications. CSUB had more than 1,200 freshmen enroll last fall, a record.

CSUB officials believe local students may be choosing to study at home during tough economic times, as opposed to applying to University of California campuses or other CSUs, said Rob Meszaros, CSUB spokesman. Other explanations for the increase could be more university outreach to local high school students, or a growing sentiment among parents that higher education is an investment rather than an expense, Meszaros said.

Transfers to CSUB last fall were down slightly.

The BC semester starts just one week after the California community college leaders approved controversial reforms to the system, which included a recommendation that would require students to have a plan for completing coursework quicker.

The 22 recommendations approved by system officials are meant to address the problem of students being denied classes they need to graduate during college budget difficulties.

At BC, college officials are telling students to register for classes early, and encouraging them to take classes during afternoons and weekends, and online, where slots might be open, said Amber Chiang, college spokeswoman.

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