Why Should We Care About Categoricals?

November
2009
Counseling & Library Faculty Issues Committee and the Transfer & Articulation Committee

Elimination of new student orientations, students registering for classes without assessing in mathematics and English, no student education plans. These are just a few of the examples of what might be in store for our campuses this year due to the unprecedented cuts to categorical programs. In July, the Governor signed into law a state budget that not only included deep funding cuts to categoricals, but also mandated significant policy changes allowing districts flexibility to move funds between categorical programs.

Programs and Their Respective Cuts
Some of the deepest cuts were suffered by Matriculation, Transfer Education and Articulation, Economic Development, Child Care Tax Bailout, Apprenticeship, Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, Equal Employment Opportunity, Part-Time Faculty Compensation, Health Insurance, and Office Hours—all at 32%. Other categorical programs receiving 15-16% less funding this year than last include Basic Skills, DSPS, EOPS, CARE, Fund for Student Success, Nursing, and CalWORKS. Telecommunications/Technology Services was hit with a 19% reduction. Foster Care Education and Student Financial Aid Administration were the only two programs spared.

Everyone held out hope that the estimated $138M ARRA dollars for California Community Colleges would help stop the bleeding, including the legislature. In fact, all of the percentages above are based on the ability to backfill these programs with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) monies. Sadly, not only did our system receive a paltry 27% of that $138M ($37M), the Department of Finance determined that while the legislature sought to backfill each categorical cut with federal resources, backfilling was not permitted under ARRA guidelines that required funds to be “unrestricted”. That interpretation will no doubt result in mid-year cuts.

Flexibility Sounds Good, But Is It?
Under the 09-10 Budget Act, certain categorical programs (Matriculation, Transfer Education and Articulation, Economic Development, Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, Childcare Tax Bail Out, Equal Employment Opportunity, Apprenticeship, and Part-Time Office Hours, Health Insurance, and Compensation) have flexibility provisions which allow districts to redirect funds away from those programs to support any other categorical program funded in the state budget. Additionally, before exercising this flexibility, districts are required to discuss the redirection of funds at a regularly scheduled public meeting and take testimony from the public. This policy change decimates the very core of categorical programs: protected funding. Furthermore, to make matters worse, any district exercising this funding flexibility is relieved of all state statutory, regulatory, and provisional requirements associated with the programs contained in the flexibility category. Lacking such mandates, students will go without assessment, orientation, counseling, and follow-up.

How Will These Cuts And The Flexibility Provision Play Out On Our Campuses?
In 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger stated, “California’s colleges and universities have great engineering programs and the capacity to produce more engineers. Our challenge is getting more students into these programs and ready for the job opportunities that await them after graduation”. The Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) Program addresses this challenge and has contributed to increasing the number of students graduating in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Fields. Yet, the MESA Community College Program (MCCP) at Mission College, which is funded through the Funds for Student Success (FSS) allotment, has suffered a $30,932 reduction in grant funds per program. The total allocation for the 09-10 academic year is now $50,568 compared to the standard $81,500. As a result of the decrease in grant funds, MCCP’s will have to make difficult decisions regarding services and student support. In response to the decreased budget, the Mission College MESA Program has reduced its number of tutors from six to four and has already planned to offer fewer leadership and professional development activities. Although these two reduced services are vital to the success of MESA Students, Mission College MESA is working on developing creative, less costly alternatives as a temporary solution to the budget crisis. Thus far, creative solutions have included collaboration of tutoring services among student support programs and partnering of MESA events among MCCP’s. These solutions may provide temporary relief, but if implemented over an extended period of time, they can prove detrimental to the success of MESA Students. Because MESA students are financially, academically and economically disadvantaged, absence of individualized services could sever the personal connection required for successful MESA student matriculation.

Without ARRA assistance, DSPS programs statewide would endure a 27% cut. However, the 1973 Federal Rehabilitation Act (section 504 and 508) and the 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act mandate that students with disabilities have a right to equal access. Unlike matriculation, whether the cut is 16% or 27% the obligation does not go away. No matter what the state funding cuts to DSPS are, colleges are still required to provide interpreters for students who are deaf and hard of hearing; Braille and tactile materials for students who are blind; alternate media for students with various disabilities; testing accommodations, including extended time on tests, for students with various disabilities; note takers; specialized computer equipment and software; scribes; steno captioning; and many other methods that provide access and allow a student to navigate and successfully complete a college education. The college DSPS program numbers may not be “capped” and services must remain available. Nor can DSPS services be discontinued and then brought back when state funding is restored. College leadership needs to be mindful that providing reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities is not a luxury, but a responsibility.

Telecommunications and Technology Infrastructure Program (TTIP) funds are dedicated to California Community Colleges (CCC) to support an assortment of technologies including the support of library databases. And while the Telecommunications and Technology Services categorical is not subject to flexibility, TTIP was cut by 19% this year and the largest cut was the $4 million that pays for library databases. In effect this would bring an end to the ability of libraries to provide access to journals and magazines. Faculty and students would no longer be able to rely on an assortment of periodical databases such as Ebsco or ProQuest. And given that many campuses significantly reduced their paper periodical holdings some years ago, the loss of these databases will essentially mean the disappearance of most, if not all library periodical resources.

Our transfer centers are already cutting staff and operating hours, reducing classroom visits and workshops, cancelling transfer fairs and campus tours, and eliminating important transfer materials due to reductions in printing/supplies budgets. UC and CSU are targeting community college outreach in their own efforts to trim operating expenses. Coupled with the lost resources on our campuses, this will cripple transfer centers, leaving students to guide themselves through the complicated maze of transfer.

What’s Being Done?
And the worst part could be yet to come. The Chancellor’s Office expects 2010-2011 to be even more painful for categoricals when ARRA funds are no longer available. On a positive note, the Chancellor’s Office continues to advocate on our behalf and has submitted its annual System Budget Proposal for 2010-11 requesting restoration of the full $313M cut in 09-10. We have other supporters voicing opposition to the cuts as well. Former Faculty Association of California Community Colleges (FACCC) President Bill Hewitt testified before the Board of Governors to denounce the Legislature’s drastic cuts to categorical programs. “When you examine the impact these categorical cuts have had on individual campuses and multiply that by the 110 community colleges across the State” explained Hewitt, “you begin to see the dismantling of valuable programs that serve the most needy students in our communities. The core of these programs may never recover because of the disproportionate cuts.” We all must wage a campaign on our own campuses to fight for general fund backfill for any categorical program subject to cuts. Our students’ success depends on it.

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