Here’s what we know. Well, it’s what we thought we knew. At any rate, this is what the California Community College website tells us: • More than 2.1 million students at 115 colleges, the California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the country. • One in every four community college students in the nation attend a California community college. Wow! That’s a really big deal no matter what filter you put on the lens. California has the largest state population at forty million residents. It has the largest state economy in the nation, and if it were a country it would be the fifth largest economy in the world. And the largest system of higher education in the world is its community college system, or as we once called it - junior colleges.
We don’t really know the true number of community college students because the California Community College Chancellor’s Office has been unable to track accurate enrollment data since the pandemic began. According to the non-profit EdSource, “The system website designed to provide the enrollment of the 115 local community colleges across the state has carried a red-lettered warning for months: Don’t trust the numbers. ‘Research or reporting using this data for terms starting with Spring 2020 is not currently supported and is not recommended.’” It’s like Lollapalooza; 400,000 people attended…more or less…we think…hard to tell.
The transition to virtual classes across the system necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic complicated enrollment counts because of the difficulty tracking students who enrolled but dropped out without officially withdrawing from courses. Numbers matter here because state funding of community colleges is tied to enrollment. Due to the current enrollment fog, California has allowed community colleges to use enrollment data from the non-pandemic/pre-enrollment-decline year to ensure funding stability.
Further complicating the accurate head count is an enrollment scam. Bots filed 65,000 fake applications from first-time students older than 30, earning less than $40,000 annually and seeking a two-year degree. About $270 million in federal Covid relief grants was distributed through the end of 2020 to more than 439,000 California community college students, including more than 56,000 who dropped out after receiving the grants. Those students also received California and federal financial aid, but the California community college office doesn’t know how many of the those who received the cash were in reality just bots. Anti-bot software installed in July estimates that 20% of the traffic to the application portal is malicious and the filter is stopping 15% of it. The scam rolls on.
Looking ahead, President Biden’s American Families Plan will pump $109 billion into two-year free community colleges, and $62 billion more for colleges to implement degree and certificate strategies for current and returning students. California will certainly receive the lion’s share, but they must design new programs based on accurate enrollment data to qualify.
Accurate enrollment data matters. State funding of our community colleges depends on it, student retention programs depend on it, and future federal assistance depends on it. Because of faulty and/or incomplete data, we don’t know how many digital thieves are posing as returning adult students. Over two million students could be affected by the enrollment data break down. That’s two million…give or take…more or less…we think…hard to tell.
Among the many issues that the Democratic presidential contenders debated last night in Miami was the increasing burden of student college debt in the U.S, which currently stands at about $1.6 trillion. The average debt for college graduates is about $29,000, but the average debt for African American graduates is more than $34,000. Compare this to American auto debt, $1.1 trillion, and lower total U.S. consumer credit card debt which is $1.04 trillion. Years ago, it would have been unthinkable that U.S. credit card debt would be surpassed by college indebtedness. Several of the candidates have suggested various methods for dealing with the problem, ranging from complete loan forgiveness to free college tuition at public colleges, and some candidates propose a combination. One thing all candidates agree on is that paying for these ambitious proposals will require higher taxes. Elizabeth Warren proposes a wealth tax on individuals, and Bernie Sanders proposes a tax on Wall Street transactions. The issue is bound to pick up steam not only in the upcoming presidential primaries, but also in the general election where Donald Trump was forced to pay a $25 million fine for bilking students out of their money in his Trump University scam.
College debt is an enormous problem confronting voters across the entire socio-economic spectrum regardless of age or race. The current college loan system preys on families who fall into the financial aid income/asset donut hole. They make too much and have too many assets to qualify for need based financial aid, but they lack the resources to pay for a traditional four year college education. What do these folks do? They borrow tens of thousands, often hundreds of thousands, to make college happen for their children. The issue has suddenly moved off the financial pages and landed smack in the middle of the presidential election zeitgeist.
Ten Quick Tips for College Transfer Planning To be eligible for transfer you will be expected to complete some or all general education requirements and major prerequisites prior to transfer. 1. Identify your target four year colleges. 2. What are the minimum number of units (credits) needed to be eligible for transfer. At most Cal State campuses and all UC campuses the number is 60 semester units (90 quarter units). Private colleges and other state public university systems may accept fewer units for transfer eligibility. 3. Research the general education requirements (also called breadth requirements) at target schools and plot your general education course sequence accordingly. - If you are enrolled in a California Community College you can find Cal State University transfer requirements at: http://calstate.edu/transfer/requirements/csustudents.shtml - UC transfer requirements at: admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/transfer/general-education-igetc/index.html 4. If you are targeting private colleges or other public universities check your community college course catalogue for course articulation agreements. For example, here is the articulation link at Santa Monica College: www.smc.edu/StudentServices/TransferServices/AreasofStudy/Pages/default.aspx/ The articulation agreement will tell you which courses at your community college satisfy general education requirements at the target college. 5. Next find out what major prerequisites are required, or recommended, for eligibility at your target colleges. For transfers from California Community Colleges to the University of California or the Cal State University systems, the best place to start is at: www.assist.org. 6. If your target colleges are outside the UC or Cal State System then you will have to research major requirements at each college website. Some of the prerequisites could overlap with UC or Cal State major prerequisites. 7. Check your community college catalogue to see how many of your high school AP or IB exam scores satisfy general ed or major prerequisites. 8.Plan your course sequence. For the University of California you can use the online Transfer Admission Planner at: admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/transfer/transfer-admission-planner/ 9. Now that you know your target transfer colleges check application deadlines. This is critical. Some colleges, including the UC and Cal State systems require transfer application almost a year in advance of enrollment. Application deadlines for other colleges and universities are often in the spring prior to fall enrollment. 10. Remember to apply for financial aid. Research college financial aid deadlines and don’t miss them. The College Transfer Guru can help you navigate the system and plan your transfer path.