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California community colleges change registration priority

September 11, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new policy marks a historic change for California's community colleges: students working on a degree or transferring to a four-year college will be given priority registration.

The change means if you're lingering because you have nothing else to do or are finding yourself, you go to the back of the line, especially if you already have 100 credits.

But if you have a goal, you move to the front.

The Board of Governors says rationed access is the only way to survive in these tough budget times, a far cry from the state's master plan for education, which aimed to provide classes to anyone who wanted take them.

"It challenges the notion that anybody can get in at any time," said Susan Bray of the Association of California Community College Administrators. "It's a whole open system. We start to put limits on things, and that's historically different than how we did it before."

Community colleges have lost more than $800 million in state funding since 2008. With fewer instructors and classes, many students can't finish in two years. It's more like six years. Nearly half a million students began the fall semester on waiting lists.

Nursing student Melaine Carnero and groups helping minority students are excited about the new policy.

"You go to class, you move on, you move out, and that opens up a slot for all the other freshmen coming in," Carnero said.

But if you're a retiree like 80-year-old Arthur Owyoung, who's been enrolled in swimming courses for a decade, the policy could shut you out.

"It seems unfair to the seniors because the seniors are the ones paying taxes and supporting the system," Owyoung said.

The new policy doesn't go into effect until 2014, but campuses will be allowed to implement it sooner.

Some critics worry about students who need classes like life skills. They're important, but not a path towards a degree.

"Community colleges are for the community, and hence the name," said Jeff Freitas of the California Federation of Teachers. "There needs to be a broad basis of education for community colleges, not just for the four-year colleges."

Active duty military, veterans, former foster youth, low-income and the disabled will continue to have first priority for classes.


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