Students on the campus of Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, Calif.
Students on the campus of Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, Calif. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: Congress may have solved its short-term budget problems, but outside the Washington beltway, 43 states are in the middle of their own negotiations. Almost all of them deep in the hole. Here in California, the deficit could be as much as $26 billion.

Talks have broken down. And community colleges are warning that cuts may force them to turn away 400,000 students. Marketplace's Jennifer Collins takes a look at what could mean for the state and the country.

Jennifer Collins: California's community college system is gigantic. It has nearly three million students. And back when Jean Ross took classes, it also had the best price -- free.

Jean Ross: It really is part of the California birthright to have those stepping stones to give you a leg up in the world.

Today Ross is the executive director of the California Budget Project, She says it's not just the students who got a leg up.

Ross: California's system of community colleges helped fuel the most dynamic industries in the country: the biotech industry, the high tech industries, our entertainment industries.

Many students enroll for technical training; others go onto four-year schools. David Baime is with the American Association of Community Colleges.

David Baime: Cuts of the magnitude that we're talking about, they are just going to result in just an outright loss of access for many individuals.

Baime says community colleges are facing cuts in Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and the list goes on. Those cuts could send students to high-cost schools and force them to take on more debt.

Baime: In other words, there aren't other good options for students.

California's also expected to raise tuition at its schools. But even with those increases, the state's community college system is still a bargain compared to the rest of the country -- that is, if you can get in.

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.