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Recession squeezes 2-year schools

College students in classroom.

TEXT OF STORY

TESS VIGELAND: So what's a student to do with all the bad news coming out of state college systems? Here in California tens of thousands of school employees face furloughs and pay cuts. In Pennsylvania, tuition is going up by almost 4 percent.

Well, this week President Barack Obama proposed that some $12 billion be spent over the next decade on community colleges around the country. It's much needed -- budget cuts are happening as enrollment soars. Tamara Keith has more.


Tamara Keith: Northern Virginia Community College is expecting a spike of students this fall. So is just about every other community college in the country. In tough economic times, these two-year schools become critical for people who have been laid off and need job retraining.

Counselor Fran Troy says she's seeing more recent high school grads too.

Fran Troy: Because they got in where they wanted at the four-year school. But economics is driving them back to us instead. They want to save money.

So, her office is busy.

Troy to a student: Matt, my name's Fran. What can I do for you?

Matt: Basically, I'm just coming in here so I can get references on classes to take.

She tells the student to hurry up and register. Just about anyone can attend Virginia community colleges, but there's no guarantee they'll get a spot in every class they need.

Troy: I just know that we're seeing so much more volume, and it will be inevitable that there are one or two classes that they can't get into.

Her advice? Be flexible, be patient. Have a plan B.

I caught student Meghan Sullivan as she was walking across campus and asked her if she's ever had trouble getting into a class.

Meghan Sullivan: Oh yeah, that's a regular thing. You'd better get used to it. I mean that's how it is.

On the day registration opens, students stay up past midnight to be the first to sign up for required courses that fill up fast.

Bob Templin, president of Northern Virginia Community College, knows why this is happening. And he doesn't like it.

Bob Templin: Well, in the last two years we've had our state funding cut by 10 percent. But I'm staring at an 11 percent increase in student enrollment in the fall, asking, "How are we going to do this?"

In California, the situation is even more dire. Fall enrollment is up 20 percent in the Los Rios Community College District. But Los Rios has to cut $30 million from its budget because of the state's cash shortfall.

What does that mean for students? Just ask Kathleen Farren. She has to complete two specific classes to get into a dental hygiene program. But when she went to sign up ...

Kathleen Farren: Every single anatomy and physiology class was full, with the waiting list closed.

She did get on a waiting list for the other class, microbiology. But there's a chance Farren will be completely shut out this fall.

Brice Harris: Those programs are terribly impacted and it's not going to get better for a while, I fear.

Brice Harris is the chancellor of the Los Rios Community Colleges.

Harris: You know there's nothing I hate worse than knowing there are students who have personal and family responsibilities that depend on them getting the training they need to get a job, and they come to our institutions and they can't find the courses they need.

The State Chancellor's Office estimates that community colleges in California will turn away 250,000 students this year.

I'm Tamara Keith for Marketplace Money.

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