“I was assigned a late registration slot, and by the time I was allowed to register, everything was full,” Mr. Villalta said. “Biology, full. Anatomy, full. Physics, full. Psychology, full. History of Asia, full. Any history class that would count toward transferring to a four-year U.C. campus, full.”
So Mr. Villalta, who had been a high school athlete, ended up taking track — and nothing else.
“It was pretty frustrating,” he said. “You feel like you’re wasting time, and your life’s just going by.”
In this economy, community colleges are widely seen as the solution to many problems. Displaced workers are registering in droves to earn credentials that might get them back in the game. Strapped parents, daunted by the cost of four-year universities, are encouraging their children to spend two years at the local community college.
President Obama has announced an American Graduation Initiative to produce five million more community college graduates by 2020. There is even a popular television comedy, “Community,” set at a two-year college.
“We’re more visible now than we ever have been,” said George R. Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges.
But for students and professors at overstretched colleges, these are hardly the best of times. With state financing slashed almost everywhere, many institutions have cut so deeply into their course offerings and their faculty rosters that they cannot begin to handle the influx of students.
In some parts of the country, the budget stresses are so serious that the whole concept of community colleges as open-access institutions — where anyone, with any educational background, can enroll at any point in life — is becoming more an aspiration than a reality.
“We have a commitment to educate the top 100 percent of Americans, but this is a tough time,” said Martha J. Kanter, under secretary of the federal Department of Education and a former community college president. “Students aren’t getting as many classes as they want, so it’s going to take them longer to get through.”
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