“I’ll just have to wait to find out if they are the right ones. I don’t know,” he said before laughing.
At MiraCosta College in Encinitas, John Burrows sat on the sidewalk, waiting for a friend during a two-hour break between classes. Burrows was your typical North County hip surf punk: messy hair, tight jeans, designer surf tee.
Long breaks between classes were something new for Burrows. In his six semesters at MiraCosta — having received his two-year degree in automotive technology and now seeking his associate degree — the 22-year-old graduate of Torrey Pines High had never seen so many people on campus.
Burrows said he was shocked to find out when he signed up for classes that every one he wanted was full. The reason so many classes had reached capacity: enrollment at the college’s three campuses had risen this year by nearly 14 percent, increasing from 12,000 students to 13,618.
On the first day of classes, unaware of the increase in students, Burrows did what he’d done in the past: he went to the classes he wanted, expecting some students who’d signed up to drop. When he arrived at the first one, he saw a line at the door of 20 people who were also hoping to crash the course. Burrows said he’d never seen more than 5 in the past.
That first week he went to ten classes hoping to find an open seat. “I just kept going to all these other classes, just trying to get in,” he said. Of the ten he wanted, he enrolled in only three. “Now that it’s harder to crash,” he said, “next semester I’m going to register early.”
Back at City College, 40-year-old Charlene Jones ate Cheez-Its from a small Baggie as she read at a table in Curran Plaza, outside the doors to the Academic Success Center, which houses the Tutorial Center for students with learning disabilities. Jones, a shy woman whose long black hair was streaked with strands of contrasting gray, had attended City College for more than three years. Family obligations and a learning disability prevented her from taking more than one class each semester.
Jones was working part-time in the Tutorial Center, helping others with learning disabilities. She said the center had also been affected by the state’s economic problems. Last year she worked a 20-hour week, but since August, when the fall semester began, her hours had been reduced to 14.
“There’s a lot of frustration among students with learning disabilities,” she said. “Now, the Tutorial Center closes two hours earlier on Fridays. So last Friday as we were closing, students were outraged. The programs needed most are the ones they are cutting.” Monday through Thursday, the center closed one hour earlier.
The increase in class size from 30 students to 45 was also a concern for Jones and for many other San Diego County community college students. “Part of learning a language is interacting,” said Jones, who was studying sign language. “Now the classroom is very crowded.” Because of the class size, Jones visited her professor during office hours to ask any questions she might have.
Spring semester classes begin on January 25. Contacted last week, Jones said that councilors warned students to register for classes as soon as their assigned registration date arrived. She did, and she got into the sign language 3 class she wanted. One week later, the class was full. The Tutorial Center’s hours will remain the same in the coming semester. Jones said that last fall, because of the cutbacks, students sometimes had to wait 30 minutes to see a tutor. Now there’s talk that next fall the center may close on Fridays. There’s also talk on campus, she said, that the summer school session may not be held.
While California’s students adjust to the cutbacks in spending, another perspective suggests how much more California could lose. Reynaldo Lacaba was in his mid-30s, a slender man dressed in blue scrubs. He was in his second semester last fall, studying nursing, and after he got his bachelor’s degree, he planned to study for a master’s in nurse anesthesia. More than a decade ago, he’d gotten a degree in anthropology at a college in Pennsylvania.
“I know a lot of students are complaining about the spike in tuition,” he said, “but I grew up on the East Coast, where they don’t have this kind of liberal policy when it comes to education. Here in California, it’s heavily subsidized. Education in other states is much, much more expensive than it is here. Students really need to put the increase in tuition in context to what other students are paying in other states. They would be shocked. Students really have it good here. They just don’t know it.”