California community colleges have shed more than 300,000 students since 2009 because the students cannot get into classes, and the toll is likely to grow unless the state reverses course and pumps more money into higher education.
That bleak assessment was delivered last week by California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott in a State of Community Colleges address at Pasadena City College.
Scott served as president of the college from 1987 to 1995, before being elected to the state Legislature. He became chancellor of the community college system in 2009 and recently announced his retirement, effective Sept. 1.
"We should be working together to rebuild California and making it a better place for our children," Scott told about 300 students, faculty and community members who gathered in the campus auditorium. "Dreams are necessary to live. If we keep dashing college dreams and denying opportunities for Californians, we're going to lose our best and brightest to other states, which will only further exacerbate our state's economic situation."
Earlier last week, California State University announced that it will freeze most admissions for spring 2013, with the exception of a few hundred community college transfer students who will be offered admission to eight of Cal State's 23 campuses.
The move will shut out an estimated 16,000 others, most of them would-be transfer students who are likely to remain at community colleges and clog access for recent high school graduates and unemployed workers who have been streaming into the two-year system for job retraining.
Scott said he understood the reasoning for Cal State's actions: State universities suffered $750 million in funding cuts in 2011-12. Meanwhile, community colleges took a $564-million hit. Both systems could lose millions more if a tax measure on the November ballot fails.
The budget cuts have caused community colleges to reduce course offerings by about 20% at a time when demand is greater than ever.
California's 112 community colleges now serve about 2.6 million students.
"The desire for community colleges has never been higher, but unfortunately, we don't have the resources to provide for everybody we'd like to provide for," Scott said in an interview after his Pasadena appearance. "When you keep piling on those kinds of cuts, colleges have no ability to respond but to reduce the number of courses we offer."