Peralta Community College District Cuts Courses and Add-ons

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Michelle Gallaga, a sophomore at Berkeley City College, had hoped to take a gender sociology course this fall, but when she went to enroll she found the course was no longer offered. She hopes to transfer to the University of California, Berkeley to major in gender and women’s studies, but with related courses unavailable at community college, she fears that may not be an option.

“It doesn’t allow me to consider gender and women’s studies, although I lean more towards that now,” she said. “It’s a bit limiting.”

Gallaga shared his disappointment during a Peralta Community College district board meeting last week. The district, which includes Berkeley City College, has cut hundreds of course sections over the past two years due to declining enrollment. Data provided by the district shows 294 course sections cut since the fall of 2020.

“I love my community college,” Gallaga said, adding that administrators should do everything they can to keep the community college as it is “and not cut classes or take away teachers, especially teachers. good teachers. That’s really why I wanted to talk. It would be a shame. »

Jennifer Shanoski, president of the Peralta Federation of Teachers, the union representing district teachers, said students complain they can’t get the classes they want and auxiliaries fear for their job security. She estimates that about 250 adjunct instructors lost their jobs because they were no longer needed to teach courses cut since the 2019-20 academic year. She said sometimes classes are canceled a week before their scheduled start, leaving adjunct professors without work and little time to find new positions at other colleges.

“I feel like I get a crying call or two every week,” she said.

She fears the district is in a “downward spiral,” where faculty are fired because there aren’t enough students, limiting students’ course options, frustrating them, and risking the district lose more students.

“It’s like this self-propagation problem,” she said. “I expect them to cut us again next year.”

Jannett Jackson, acting district chancellor, said the strategic reduction in classes that enroll fewer than 25 students is an unfortunate but necessary step to shore up the district’s financial health amid declining enrollment. Of the 56 sections of courses cut this term, there were on average only three students registered per class and 53% of the sections had no students registered.

Enrollment has been declining at all four colleges in the district since 2016, and over time that has left the district with more instructors than needed for the size of the student body, she said. The pandemic has also impacted enrollment, as it has at community colleges across the country. The number of students fell to 27,886 this year from 35,689 in the 2019-2020 academic year, a drop of more than 20%, according to district data.

Jackson, a former part-time teacher, said she sympathizes with adjuncts who rely on their teaching income, but the reduction in course sections and adjuncts allows full-time faculty members to maintain loads. full courses and reduced the budget to ward off any possible future layoffs among full-time faculty.

“It’s not something I want to put this district through,” she said. “I could just sit in that seat and say, ‘Well, damn it…I’m just going to let someone else worry about it. I will be gone in a year. It was never my way of working. I believe in taking the hard right rather than the easy wrong.

The neighborhood has seen its share of turbulence and financial difficulties in recent years. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges placed the colleges on probation in January 2020 after reviewing their finances. The colleges made improvements and moved to “warning” status starting in January 2022. An Alameda County civil grand jury report also criticized the district council last year for infighting and poor shared governance practices, among other issues.

Those controversies followed a 2019 audit of the district by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, an agency that helps California public K-12 schools and colleges manage their finances. The audit highlighted “serious concerns about the district’s financial situation” and made 70 recommendations, including working to “align full-time faculty with the district’s workforce” and reduce the number of administrators.

“I think we can turn things around,” Jackson said. “I know the odds are not in our favor, but that has never stopped us. I believe in the success of the human spirit. I believe the challenges are there for a reason. I think this should bring us together, not pull us apart, so that we can advocate on behalf of our students, because they need us now more than ever.

Shanoski argued the district isn’t as financially squeezed as it once was — Peralta had a budget surplus this academic year after receiving state and federal COVID-19 relief funding. . She also noted that the district continued to hire administrators, including a new vice chancellor, this year. She thinks the money would be better spent on keeping instructors, embracing smaller class sizes and providing more options for students.

“The money is there,” she said. “They just decide to spend it on other things.”

Jackson said district leaders work to ensure the district has the appropriate number of directors and some salaries are partially covered by grants and bonds. She is also worried that the district will soon lose its funding. Starting in 2024, California community colleges will receive state funding based on a new funding formula that takes into account college completion rates and other measures of student success alongside enrollment. Enforcement of the formula, originally enacted in 2018, has been delayed due to widespread anxiety among community college leaders across the state about impending funding losses if enrollment continues to decline and affect student outcomes. . Meanwhile, Jackson worries about the depletion of one-time COVID-19 relief funds and thinks the district should save for the future. She said a projection of district finances shows costs are expected to exceed revenues by the 2026-27 fiscal year if nothing changes.

“I sometimes feel like a squirrel, with full cheeks,” she said. “We are planning for the winter.”

The cuts to classes and adjuncts at Peralta mirror trends at community colleges across the country as they suffered a sharp drop in enrollment during the pandemic, said Glenn Colby, senior research director at the American Association. of University Professors.

Among community colleges nationwide, the number of part-time faculty fell from 187,520 in fall 2019 to 165,322 in fall 2020, an 11.8% drop, according to data from the ‘AAUP. Meanwhile, data from the U.S. Department of Education shows the number of part-time faculty members in California’s community college system fell from 27,094 to 24,298 between fall 2019 and fall. 2020, a loss of nearly 2,800 instructors.

“Anecdotally, when I speak with community colleges across the country and districts, etc., they tell me that contingent faculty have really been hammered the last two years,” Colby said. Auxiliary workers are already struggling with employment uncertainty every quarter, but especially when enrollments drop.

“Does the department head call me for the next term and say, ‘Hey, do you want to teach this class again?’ or is the phone just not ringing? he added. “It’s horrible if it’s your livelihood.”

Colby said higher education experts, including himself, are concerned about faculty morale in the face of these challenges.

“People are exhausted after two years of being in constant crisis mode, putting out one fire after another,” he said. They had to “take on additional workloads,” including replacing laid off colleagues on committees and running university programs with fewer people.

Shanoski said the cuts had taken an emotional toll on the remaining instructors, and the stress and anxiety was palpable for students in their classes.

“I think teacher morale is lower than I’ve ever seen it,” she said.

She also said she was not entirely convinced that full-time faculty members would ultimately be spared from the cuts. She pointed to faculty at City College of San Francisco, who camped out on campus last week to protest the impending layoffs of 50 full-time faculty.

“You just have to look across the bay to see what’s coming,” she said.

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