COLLEGE CRUNCH HITTING 10,000 HIGH SCHOOL GRADS FIND GOALS DEFERRED.
More than 10,000 students who are eligible to enroll in the state's universities have been told to apply instead to community colleges, putting more pressure on a system that last year turned away 90,000 students because of overcrowding.
State budget cuts have forced the University of California and California State University systems to drastically cut back course offerings for the fall semester.
As a result, more than 10,000 students who had the grades and the SAT scores to attend four-year universities have been told to attend community college for two years, then transfer to the campus of their choice.
With enrollment opening Monday at some of the state's community colleges, officials are wondering just how they're going to handle 10,000 more applicants when they don't have the money to add classes.
``If they wait, then there's nothing we can do for them. The classes will be gone,'' said Darroch ``Rocky'' Young, acting senior vice chancellor for the nine-member Los Angeles Community College District, which last year turned away 5,000 students and cut 1,000 classes because of the state budget crisis.
Many disappointed high school seniors with high grades and top academic honors who qualified for admission to state universities are already aware they need to secure seats in community colleges.
Leonela Colque, 17, has a 3.5 GPA at North Hollywood High School, and wants to study law one day. She knew applying to UCLA, her dream school, was a long shot, but thought she had a good chance of getting into UC Santa Barbara or UC Davis. What she got, instead, was a guaranteed transfer option letter.
``When I got my UC letter, I was crying,'' said Colque, who now plans to attend Pasadena City College.
``I was really mad. I worked so hard all four years of high school, and there are other people who didn't do anything and barely graduated, and they're going to community college. It feels as though all my hard work was for nothing.''
Not only do Colque and other top grads have to postpone their university experience for at least two years, they will also be given no enrollment priority over other incoming students at community colleges.
``There is no way for us to give them priority,'' said Pierce College's Joy McCaslin, vice president for student services.
And, if they do get in, the students shouldn't assume that they'll be able to finish their lower division course work in two years and transfer to universities.
Luis Juarez, 20, of Van Nuys, who plans to transfer from Pierce College to UC Davis this fall and eventually become an orthopedic surgeon, said it took him three years to complete his lower-division requirements.
Like many students, he had to scrounge for openings in classes at several community colleges. But he praised the quality of his professors.
``Community colleges still have a stigma, but I may be getting a better education than they are.''
Robert Turnage, vice chancellor for fiscal policy for the state chancellor's office of the California Community Colleges, said many new students may be pleasantly surprised by their experience at community colleges, where they will be taught by faculty members, not teaching assistants.
``When you transfer to a UC or CSU and get your diploma, it doesn't have an asterisk at the bottom saying you did the first two years at a community college,'' Turnage said. ``There's no such thing as a second-class diploma.''
Under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget, both the UC and CSU systems have been directed to reduce incoming freshmen enrollment for 2004-2005 by 10 percent - 3,200 students in the UC system, and 3,800 for the CSU system.
About 7,600 UC-eligible students got letters telling them they could be admitted to the campus of their choice if they completed the first two years at a community college.
The CSU plans to send out similar letters offering guaranteed transfer options to at least 3,800 students.
So far, Cal State Northridge does not plan to send any guaranteed transfer letters, meaning all qualified students who apply and want to attend the university should get in. But transfer letters were sent out from CSU universities at Chico, Fullerton, Long Beach, San Diego State, San Marcos, Sonoma and Cal Poly campuses at Pomona and San Luis Obispo.
Schwarzenegger has proposed that the state will pay these students' tuition for the first two years of community college, but the plan has yet to be approved by the state Legislature.
The state community college's board of governors also plans to ask the Legislature for an additional $27 million on top of the $121 million increase recommended by the governor so that the state's 109 community colleges can offer more classes.
``We are very concerned that we don't have the capacity to provide the classes these students need as well as the services they'll need,'' said Linda Michalowski, interim vice chancellor for student services for the California Community College system.
Lisa M. Sodders, (818) 713-3663
(color) Leonela Colque graduated from North Hollywood High School with a 3.5 GPA and was not accepted into a UC campus, a fate suffered by more than 10,000 California students this year.
Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer