By SAM SCOTT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa Junior College’s population is shrinking, and so is its patience for students who repeatedly take the same class.
The school again is reducing its offerings next year, planning to eliminate 370 sections in a budget-cutting move that could reduce the student body and make it harder to enroll in the most popular subjects.
Other changes, however, may shut out scores of SRJC students from even those courses that do have ample space.
SRJC recently sent out emails notifying students of a new state policy prohibiting them from taking the same class more than three times even counting times they withdrew and received a W on the their transcript rather than a grade.
“Basically what the state is saying is, ‘We can’t keep funding students who keep dropping out and taking seats from other students,’” said Freyja Pereira, SRJC’s director of academic records.
The old rules limited students who fail or receive a D from endlessly repeating a class. The new policy, which kicks in this summer, extends the restriction to W’s that go on a transcript when a student drops a class after the fourth week.
Students who drop classes before that threshold do not receive a W and are unaffected by the new rule.
“It will have an effect because people bail out of classes pretty easily around here,” Counselor Greg Sheldon said.
The change, though, also stands to impact students who fall victims to unexpected challenges.
Mykela Kray twice had to withdraw from zoology after battling exhaustion caused by chronic pain syndrome. As a biochemistry student, the 21-year-old needs the class.
“If something happens to me next time I try to take it, something that’s not my fault, that I didn’t do on purpose and that I have no control over, I would have to take it at a different school,” Kray said. “I think it’s a little harsh.”
Up to 1,258 current SRJC students have already exhausted their limits in at least one class under the new policy.
The total impact, though, may extend far wider. The policy is retroactive to the beginning of SRJC’s electronic records in the fall of 1981, meaning someone who withdrew from classes as a teenager in the 1990s could come back as a thirty-something and be blocked.
“There are going to be a lot of students who may indeed be shocked by this,” said Filomena Avila, chairwoman of SRJC’s counseling department.
In her experience, students who withdraw aren’t doing so out of laziness or a lack of effort, Avila said. They may struggle with the subject matter or have jobs, lives and health concerns that overwhelm their studies.
But in tough times, community college leaders are hunting for ways to better allocate increasingly scarce resources.
Last year, SRJC did away with enrollment procedures that favored students who received randomly assigned early sign-up times. Instead all students in a registration group now receive the same 6 a.m. start time, an attempt to give the most motivated students the best shot at getting into a declining number of classes.
Next year, SRJC expects to receive state funding for the equivalent of an estimated 18,141 full-time students, down from 19,217 this year and 20,808 two years ago.
The 13 percent reduction translates into a similar drop in the number of classes and hence in the size of the student body.
Amid such declines, some instructors support the new restrictions. Life sciences instructor Robin Fautley indicated concern about its retroactivity, but on the whole, she said she agreed with it.
“I think it’s reasonable,” she said. “The students who I see drop the most are people who regularly don’t do their homework and don’t do the things they need to do to be successful.”
The classes with highest number of current students who are barred from taking them again are English 1A, with 108 affected students, Math 155 with 88 and Psychology 1A with 67.
Students may petition to take a class a fourth time if they can cite extenuating circumstances.