How Does the Budget Situation Really Affect Us?

September
2009
Jane Patton, President

Typically when we all return to campus in the fall, we ask one another, "So, how was your summer?" I hope the same will be true this fall; however, I suspect that the burning question being asked across the state is, "How will the drastic budget reductions really affect us?"

While the precise answer might vary depending on whom you ask, there are some grim commonalities statewide. Districts see that their apportionments are smaller and they are confronted with many tough choices; department chairs and deans see how their class schedules have been slashed; students see longer lines to get needed services or to pay their higher fees; classroom faculty see the pain on the face of students who beg to add a required class which has long since been closed; part-time faculty find they are offered fewer sections to teach; and not enough counselors are on hand to lend a sympathetic ear and guide students to other options because the college had to shut them out of required courses.

If you watched the drama unfold in Sacramento this summer, which was even more suspenseful and depressing than usual, you know that all the state services took a huge hit, and community colleges are not alone in the chaos that is the state's budget situation. The 2009 reductions to the system right now (according to the Chancellor's Office memo dated August 4th) include: a $192 million shortfall in revenues to general apportionments and at least $193 million in cuts to categorical programs. In addition, colleges are receiving no growth or COLA. The immediate effects of the reductions are already being felt, e.g.:

  • Most of our student services are being reduced between 16-32%, and some services are protected while some are being eliminated. Categorical "flexibility" will be permitted in some areas. As it now stands, "flexibility" means the option of not only moving around certain funds but also not having to meet some categorical mandates that previously ensured that certain services were provided.
  • Student fees are increased to $26/unit effective Fall 2009.
  • Class sections were cut when schedules went to print last spring, so we would expect most classes would be over-subscribed this fall, but history tells us that the increased student fees will likely drive some students away. Furthermore, the loss of students due to fee increases tends to be selective: certain groups are less likely to persist when given the fees increase, regardless of the availability of financial aid. (See: What's Wrong with Student Fees? Renewing the Commitment to No-Fee, Open-Access Community Colleges in California available on our website at http://www.asccc.org/Publications/Papers/StudentFeesOpenAccess.html)
  • Fewer adjunct faculty are being re-hired and many colleges have imposed a hiring freeze.
  • Districts will be making new kinds of decisions, as some of the budgeting rules have changed.

The complex scheme that is the categorical "flexibility" will require a critical local dialog about which programs must be maintained at a certain level versus which could be reduced. Presidents, chancellors and budget officers at your college and district are getting regular information and training about the new rules and reductions, and senates need to be sure they understand the options and guidelines and participate in any new policy development regarding "flexibility."

Besides our immediate worry about the near future, the longer-term effects may not be immediately visible but may have far-reaching consequences. Some possibilities:

  • The missions of the California community colleges are likely to shift, and we need to take control of directing how they change. At the state level, conversations have already begun about the directions in which our system may be heading.
  • Who we serve likely will not be the same. There is danger that the most needy of our students will be harmed the most. In addition to the disproportionate impact that higher fees, categorical cuts and "flexibility" strategies will have on these students, many will simply be shoved aside as more CSU- and UC-ready students come to our colleges.
  • Besides hurting our students, society and the workplace will lose out, as colleges cannot meet the demands for an educated populace.

So what can/should we do as faculty and in our academic senates? It has never been more important for senates to identify faculty representatives to maintain close working relationships with the college/district budget officers to keep apprised of the information that the district administrators get. For example, the details of the "categorical flexibility" are still being worked out. Local colleges will determine if and how they may locally adjust the budgets for certain programs. Faculty should ensure they participate in those local budget policy discussions. While Title 5 does not grant us authority over daily budget operations, in times like these policies may change. Additionally, some locally-adopted policies do include faculty in budgetary decision-making, and an offshoot of budget reductions include many areas where faculty must participate such as program development and discontinuance.

Given the "flexibility" granted in this new budget, old rules no longer apply, and student services faculty in particular will be needed to help devise or modify local policies. In times of difficulty, it is easy to bypass governance policies and procedures, and we must be vigilant. For example, when programs are reduced or even eliminated, are the agreed-upon policies used to determine changes? Senates must ensure that the critical committees have active, engaged faculty participation.

Some colleges will seek ways to add to their coffers, whether through grants, recruiting and enrolling students who pay higher fees, or making programmatic changes. All of these, as well as decisions to move the college in new academic directions, require open dialog.

Given the fee increase, faculty should participate with others on campus to identify ways to ensure that students are receiving all financial aid to which they are entitled. How aware are your students of that which is available to them? For example, one college is encouraging faculty to add a note on their syllabi about financial aid and where to find more information.

And if the reductions we have seen are not enough, we can expect more mid-year cuts during 2009-10. While there are efforts to tap into federal stimulus funds, it remains to be seen how the federal dollars may benefit colleges.

The state Academic Senate also took hits. It is not yet certain how much our revenue will be reduced, but we have identified possible reduction such as committee budgets, liaison appointments, fewer office staff, fewer publications, and travel reductions. In addition, the Academic Senate is pursuing grant opportunities to support our organization's mission. Sadly, we will not be able to function at the same high level. We do not plan to eliminate any of our institutes or plenary sessions, so please register now on our website to guarantee your slot for 2009-10.We will keep you posted about any changes along the way, but please know that we will keep our focus on serving local senates and ensuring the faculty voice in academic and professional matters.

In these challenging times, faculty will do well to remember the principles of participatory governance on which the academic senate is founded as well as the advice provided at all of our institutes and plenary sessions which should guide our daily work as faculty leaders. The faculty roles in the 0 + 1 areas all apply during this budget climate and courageous faculty will be needed to participate fully in the difficult governance activities that lie ahead of us. While I would prefer that my first Rostrum article as Academic Senate President be a cheery message, the circumstances require me to be a pragmatist. Welcome back! We need strong faculty leadership!

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.