California college leaders speak out on budget delays, cutbacks

Jack Scott, chancellor of California Community Colleges
Jack Scott, chancellor of California Community Colleges
Brian Watt/KPCC

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The heads of higher education in California today pressured the governor and state legislature to approve a long-awaited budget so they could relieve a bottleneck to allow more students through classroom doors.

"This is day 58 without a budget, so we're operating with a blindfold on about how many students we can admit in 2011-12," said California State University Chancellor Charles Reed.

"People are being denied," said California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott, joining representatives from the University of California, California State University and the California Community Colleges system at a press conference today.

Most community college classes are over 90 percent filled, with many classes being full and also having a huge wait list, California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott said.

"For the first time, our first time enrollments dropped," said Scott. "It wasn't a lack of demand, it was a lack of supply."

Chancellor Jack Scott of California’s community college system said that until the governor signs a state budget, the colleges don’t get the money they need.

"We missed $116 million in July, $277 million in August," said Scott. "But let me tell you, September 28 is one of our largest monthly payments. It’s nearly $450 million. If this budget isn’t settled by September 28, I think there are frankly gonna be a few community colleges that are gonna have great difficulty in meeting payroll."

Students may not be able to receive their Cal Grant money. About two-thirds of California community colleges already did not have the money to pay for students who were supposed to receive Cal Grants, according to Scott.

College representatives said that they've made significant cuts already, including University of California employees all taking a 10 percent paycut and reducing the staff by several thousand.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't conceding his position on the budget to state legislators. "I promised the people in 2003 that I will go and bring some kind of order into our budget system, so this is why I'm fighting," Schwarzenegger told Bay Area business leaders earlier this month, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Scott said some community colleges have borrowed money from banks, but there’s a limit to how much they can borrow to bridge the gap until a budget is passed. "We simply catch it in the neck," said Scott.

(Text by Mike Roe; audio by Brian Watt)