Report From The Field: California’s Community College Crisis

Editor’s Note: I asked Kenley Neufeld, Library Director at Santa Barbara City College to share his insider’s view on the situation currently being experienced at California’s community colleges. We are all aware of the difficult budget situation in California and how it is impacting on higher education. Few folks know the community college scene quite as well as Kenley. Here’s his take on what’s happening:

When California community college librarians return to campus later this month, they may be surprised to find we’ve returned to the dark ages of research. The regular and ongoing funding, since 1997, that has paid for research databases has been cut 100%.

For some campuses, this will mean no paid electronic resources. No Gale. No Ebsco. No ProQuest. Nothing. If they haven’t cut their Readers Guide to Periodical Literature, which many have, they might be able to use the green books. Most, however, are likely to turn to Google and Wikipedia for research needs. The more fortunate campuses, those with supportive leadership, will continue to have some database funding from the local general funds but at a significantly reduced level.

The California community college system includes 110 campuses and 2.6 million students, the largest system in the world. The system relies on state funding and, for anyone paying attention to California economics, you know that academia is suffering like other programs in the state. In addition to unrecoverable cuts last year, for most of the past year the campuses have been receiving deferred funding from the state. Deferred funding forces a campus to use reserves to make payroll and other fixed costs. This is expected to continue.

With the most recently passed state budget (July 28, 2009), cuts will slash community college spending by over $680 million from the amount approved in February, and is expected to reduce enrollment by 250,000 students. Many campuses, and particularly libraries, rely on categorical funds earmarked for specific programs. In most cases, these categorical funds are cut 32%-62%.

One such categorical fund is Telecommunications and Technology Infrastructure Program (TTIP). This categorical was cut 19% for the coming year. This program’s second largest item was the $4 million for library databases. Given the restrictions based on contracts in the other TTIP items, the library database funding will be cut to zero. It is very unlikely this fund will ever be restored.

The budget system is very complicated and it will take us a while to sort through all the implications. There is still a great deal of confusion and circumstances continue to change, even with an approved state budget. Given the magnitude of the overall cuts to community college campuses, there will undoubtedly be more cuts to library budgets in personnel and materials. Hours will be reduced. Collections will be diminished.

According to Community College League of California, “these are the deepest cuts in history of California community colleges. With booming enrollment from four converging forces–record high school graduates, redirected four-year students, returning veterans, and the newly unemployed–the budget will significantly constrain access and limit essential student services.”

All hope is not lost. The Chancellor’s Office is supportive and the Council of Chief Librarians, representing California community college libraries, is being proactive by exploring options for a centralized purchase of basic databases.

Many thanks to Kenley for sharing his insights into what is sure to be an extremely difficult year (and beyond) for our academic library colleagues in California. Kenley ends his post with an optimistic note so let’s hope things do improve before they get much worse.