The California Community Colleges Crisis

College Diploma

When I went back to San Jose City College to learn computer programming ten years ago, I knew it would be tough. The dot com bubble went kablooey. Computers were out, health care was in. I couldn’t get the classes I needed in the beginning because there were too many students, and the classes I needed towards the end were cancelled for not having enough students. After five years of going to school on a part-time basis while working full time, I made the dean’s list  in my final semester for maintaining a 4.0 GPA in my major.

Unless I won the lottery and returned to San Jose State University to complete my bachelor degree in something (I was a mathematics major before they kicked me out in 1995), I wouldn’t dream of going back to a community college for classes. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the community colleges are so impacted from the Great Recession that many students are lucky to get any classes at all.

Frustrated students linger on waiting lists or crash packed classes hoping professors will add them later. They see their chances of graduating or transferring diminishing.

It’s a product of years of severe budget cuts and heavy demand in the two-year college system. The same situation has affected the Cal State and UC systems, but the impact has been most deeply felt in the 2.4-million-student community college system — the nation’s largest.

Taking forever to get a college degree used to be optional. Now it’s a requirement. If you want it, persevere until you get all your classes. If you don’t want it, work at Taco Bell until you retire.

Perhaps I was lucky to return to school when I did. Uncle Sam paid for my books and classes with a $3,000 USD tax credit meant to transition workers into a new career. Ironically, I never did get a programming job after graduating in 2007. The only programming I do now is for maintaining my websites.

I got a help desk job at a Fortune 500 company in Mountain View in 2005. Unlike finding and reporting bugs in video games, I was finding and documenting solutions for problems that users were reporting. The pay was better ($24 USD versus $16 USD) for fewer hours (40 hours versus 80 hours). I stayed at this job for nearly three years. Help desk, like becoming a video game tester years earlier, became my new career almost by accident.

The only educational opportunities I have is updating my tech certifications. The A+, Network+ and Microsoft Windows 2000 certifications that I got while in school are long in the tooth. The certifications that I need today are Microsoft Windows 7 and Apple Mac OS X. I can study for those without taking any classes. Between working help desk during the day and writing at night, I have very little time to sit in a classroom even if I could get classes.