By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa Junior College announced Friday plans to restore up to 500 classes eliminated by persistent budget cuts, enabling students to earn academic degrees and technical education certificates more quickly.
Officials said the courses would be added over the upcoming summer, fall and spring sessions, and thanked voters for passing Proposition 30, the tax measure that reaped $6.3 million for SRJC and made the class expansion possible.
“This will do wonders,” said school President Frank Chong. SRJC, founded in 1918, has been battered by state-mandated budget cuts for the past four years.
The 30,000-student college has experienced a “supply problem” by cutting course offerings at a time when student demand for classes “is at an all-time high,” Chong said.
Boosting the number of English, mathematics and science classes in particular will help students earn the core credits needed to transfer to state colleges and universities, he said.
Mary Kay Rudolph, SRJC’s vice president of academic affairs, said the plan will restore nearly half of the classes eliminated as the state’s slumping economy prompted funding cuts to the 112-school community college system.
“It’s been cut, cut, cut,” she said, with long lines at registration, students being turned away and “frustration all over the state.”
On SRJC’s sun-splashed quad Friday afternoon, Jazmine Whitlock attested to the impact.
“It’s really crazy now,” said Whitlock, a Montgomery High School graduate who completed an associate degree at SRJC in 2010 and returned this spring for an astronomy lab class with 40 students, the most ever, she said.
Two years ago, a conversational French class had about 10 students and is now packed with more than 40 students, she said.
Eudoxia Denison, a fifth-year student pursuing an art degree, said she’s had trouble getting into the classes she wants.
“They fill really quickly,” Denison said, adding that she commutes from Petaluma because the courses she wants aren’t offered at the campus there. The planned expansion of classes is “good news,” she said.
SRJC’s state funding shrank by $11 million in the four-year period from the 2008-09 academic year to 2011-12, said Doug Roberts, vice president of business services.
Compounding the budget crunch, he said, were a $2 million increase in employee health care costs and $1 million more in retirement and unemployment insurance obligations.
Voter approval of Proposition 30 — Gov. Jerry Brown’s sales and income tax increase on the November ballot — offset the need for continued cuts and set the stage for restoring many canceled classes, SRJC officials said.
The measure passed by a 54 to 46 percent margin statewide, and got two-thirds voter approval in Sonoma County.
Paired with the academic expansion is revival of the Doyle Scholarship program, announced last week. It is offering $500 grants to 2013 high school graduates who earned a cumulative 3.0 grade-point average.
The program, established in 1948, had helped nearly 120,000 students pay for studies at SRJC until it was suspended in 2008 after Exchange Bank stopped paying stock dividends, which fund the scholarships.
Aside from the Doyle program, financial aid also is available to high school graduates who were not high achievers, including those from immigrant families, Chong said.
“I say ‘Come on back, we’re here,’” Rudolph said, encouraging prospective students to consult class schedules available on campus and at SRJC’s website listing the expanded course offerings.
Many of the renewed classes will be offered in the afternoon, evening, online and at the Petaluma campus to improve student access, she said.
Priority registration for the summer session begins April 29 and fall registration starts June 24.
“We are calling this summer the Summer of Student Success,” Rudolph said. Course offerings will be concentrated in areas such as college-level preparation, readiness in English, math and English as a Second Language, and prerequisite courses for degree and certificate programs.
“We are going to make good on our promise,” Chong said, referring to the pledge that Proposition 30 would enhance education.
Still, he said, SRJC has a way to go to regain its peak enrollment of 50,000 students.
“We’re not quite back to where we were,” Chong said.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.