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Community Colleges Need Alternatives

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By Jasmine Ako

You know that sinking feeling you get when you log onto USC's Web Registration, scroll to the course you really want to take and realize that there are no open spots?

Though USC students might face this problem from time to time, it's a common reality for students enrolled in California's community colleges.

According to the The New York Times, California's community college system has been hit particularly hard, losing $809 million in state aid since 2008. These massive budget cuts have hurt the number and quality of courses offered on public campuses throughout the state, where students fight to get the courses they need to graduate or transfer to their dream school.

Santa Monica College is one of the many schools feeling the harsh effect of budget cuts. The community college had to slash an alarming 1,100 courses in the fall.

To cope with this dilemma, the college plans on implementing a two-tiered tuition structure. The school hopes that students who are eager enough to register for a certain class will pay a higher price of $180 per credit hour, a significant markup from $36 per credit hour for regular classes.

SMC's method of dealing with low funding is too drastic. Finding a solution to California's massive budget cuts is far from easy, but students shouldn't be punished for the state's mistakes.

USC itself is a dream destination for many community college students. Of the 2011 transfer class, a notable 59 percent came from California community colleges.

Of those community colleges, SMC sends a significant proportion of students to USC. In fall 2009, 905 students applied to USC, of which 329 students were admitted and 173 enrolled, posting a 52 percent matriculation rate.

A chief reason students attend community college before applying to a more expensive four-year college such as USC is to save money. Pricier courses would undermine the true purpose of community colleges: providing accessible and affordable options to students from all backgrounds.

Gov. Jerry Brown is hoping to solve the problem with a tax-hike initiative, which will raise levies on upper incomes and hike the state sales tax. According to a March USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, California voters mainly support Brown's new proposal.

The fact that citizens are in favor of a tax hike illustrates widespread recognition of the severity of the situation. Students, school administrators and citizens across the state should support the tax initiative on November's ballot, as it is one of the most straightforward and essential solutions to mending California's budget crisis.

In addition, the government needs to be held accountable for the effective allocation of funds in education. Better transparency and performance-based budgeting at the state and local levels could drastically improve how public colleges operate.

The Government Performance and Accountability Act proposed by the California Forward Action Fund is a great example of what could be done to improve the state's policymaking system.

The act requires state and local governments to identify funding before they create new programs and implement tax cuts. It also proposes to make legislation public three days before legislators cast their votes. If voters approve the act, it will push state and local governments to exercise greater fiscal responsibility.

Meanwhile, colleges should also implement some changes on their own -- changes that don't privilege students who can pay more.

One solution suggested by Clayton M. Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Michael B. Horn, the co-founder and Executive Director of Education at Innosight, were online classes. Christensen and Horn argue that online classes reduce teacher-to-student ratios in buildings, spread costs and ultimately help trim down expenses.

As California's state and community colleges continue to reel from budget cuts, demand from students is only continuing to grow. Alternative solutions should be fully explored and change must be effected at the top and through our own engagement.

Jasmine Ako is a senior majoring in business administration.

This post originally appeared in The Daily Trojan.