This spring the Los Angeles Times ran what I consider to be a tragic story out of California. The headline? "Community College Enrollment at 20-Year Low."
The tragedy lies in the reason why enrollment is so low. It's not because Californians don't see the value of college. It's not because there's a lack of demand for higher education. No, enrollment is at a 20-year low due to massive budget cuts. These cuts mean hundreds of thousands of students are unable to access college, according to the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).
Here is a crucial fact. Low-income students are already underrepresented in higher education. Their best bet is often the community college, with the most affordable tuition offerings. But massive budget cuts and the narrowing of course offerings may mean that even this most affordable option is at risk. PPIC recently issued a sobering report entitled "The Impact of Budget Cuts on California's Community Colleges." The report indicates that new revenues and a state aid increase are unlikely to make up for years of big cuts. Hard choices lie ahead.
Policymakers must consider access as they grapple with tough budget decisions - as they grapple with the future of higher education. Student success and completion goals have been at the top of policymakers' agenda across the country - and they should be in California.
But in our quest for success, we cannot forget access. California's community colleges are the nation's largest system of public higher education. Their graduates are their state's future lab bench workers, auto mechanics, and nurses. They can transfer and go on to be teachers, engineers, and researchers.