Community college cutbacks: how one Bay Area school is getting by

Chabot College in Hayward

Community college is supposed to be the affordable path to higher education. But with $400 million cut from the California Community Colleges budget, the future of the 112 California campuses is unclear – including Chabot College in Hayward.

Still, the president of Chabot College, Dr. Celia Barberena is hopeful. Dr. Barberena joined KALW’s Hana Baba to discuss how budget cuts are affecting Chabot College and its students.

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DR. CELIA BARBERENA: At Chabot, as of last year, we had to cut 56 full-time equivalent faculty. That's an awful lot of lives being disrupted. The business of education is a business of being people-intensive. Someone has to be in the classroom, someone has to be in the counseling office, someone has to register students. And while we can automate an awful lot and we can offer online learning, it is still about a human putting out their hearts and souls, answering questions, finding out what is the students’ potential, finding out why is this student having difficulty. So we have streamlined some processes. We have an awful lot of online offerings, but in the end we have had to cut back on some sections and offerings.

Nonetheless, let me tell you with pride and joy that Chabot is serving 15,000 students – just like it did three years ago – even though we have cut quite a bit. And that's because our faculty and staff are just incredibly committed, and they just push harder. They take every student in. Everybody here works incredibly hard so that we can change our community, so that we can impact the future of our students.

HANA BABA: So this is the fall. Resilience is great and it's one thing, but the reality also is that they are paying more this time.

BARBERENA: The fee hike is in play right now, but the state is still talking to us about how the fees might go higher.

BABA: So when that happens, if and when that happens, when fees go up, what are your expectations in terms of the numbers of enrollment?

BARBERENA: Many of our students qualify for fee waiver at Chabot. Forty-four percent of our students are at the poverty line, so they can apply for what is called a California Board of Governors grant and that means that they will not have to pay tuition. The point of community colleges is still they're a very good investment and the fees are very low. I'm more worried about the cutbacks because it is in the cutbacks that we don't allow all of the students that might want to enroll.

BABA: Have you lost students? You said that last year it was 15,000 and so far you have the enrollment for this year. So how many have you lost?

BARBERENA: Actually, the wonderful story about Chabot, as well as the difficult story about Chabot is that this year 1,000 students, the equivalent of 1,000 students taking 15 units will have gone to Chabot, and Chabot will not receive a penny from the state. So educating these people comes out of the efforts of the faculty and staff who are working here to support students, but will not say no.

BABA: It sounds to me like you're kind of the one who's keeping the optimism and keeping the hope here and looking at things from a positive side while still being pragmatic about it. You're retiring in December from this position and so how optimistic are you about the future of Chabot College?

BARBERENA: I am very optimistic about the future of Chabot College. Like I told you, we are completing our 50th anniversary this year. So this is not the first time Chabot has gone through very difficult times. The faculty, the staff, the administrators in here have the strength, have the stamina, have the smarts, have the creativity, but also they have the credibility with this community to continue to invest in Chabot.

You know, Chabot came out with a bond measure to this community and this community voted so that Chabot would receive $240 million in refurbishing this college. That's no small amount of money.

So every place I go in the community and I say I am the president of Chabot, I am received with respect and regard because of what this college stands for. So we will go through some tough times – I'm not really sure when they will be over – but, through these tough times and after we come out of them Chabot continues to be an excellent institution, a resilient institution, a great example for any organization that is going through the economic woes that we're going through. It's not my time to encourage everyone to come because we won't have seats for everyone, but it's still the best option in higher education in California.

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