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Daily Report: Higher Ed

What's at stake as community colleges face budget cuts?

March 27, 2013, 6:05 AM | Kelly Chen, California Watch

Public Policy Institute of California Fee increase at California community colleges over time

A new report by the Public Policy Institute of California examines how nearly $1.5 billion in budget cuts in recent years has limited access to the state’s community college system.

I asked California Watch’s higher education reporter, Erica Perez, to help break down what the changes mean for the 2.4 million students who attend community colleges. Below are excerpts of our conversation.

California community colleges have experienced a cut of nearly $1.5 billion between 2007-08 and 2011-12.

The Public Policy Institute of California report states: “Student enrollment rates in California’s community colleges have dropped to a 20-year low in the wake of unprecedented cuts in state funding. Colleges have reduced staff, cut courses, and increased class sizes – all of which have led to declines in student access.”

According to a recent California Watch report, fees have...

Emails reveal college officials knew they were overbilling state

December 18, 2012, 12:05 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch


Newly released emails and documents show which current and former senior administrators at the College of the Desert were aware that the district's enrollment figures were inaccurate and the college was overbilling the state – a deception that will cost the district $5.26 million in repayments.

A recent audit by the state Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team characterized the overbilling as potential fraud, though it did not name names.

Beginning in 2003-04, officials at the Palm Desert college used an inaccurate formula for counting enrollment that assumed most classes met for the exact number of hours listed in the catalog. By that calculation, every three-unit class provided 54 hours of instruction per semester.

But in reality, many three-unit classes met for 52 or 53 hours per semester.

The seemingly small discrepancy was significant because college districts receive the bulk of their state funding based on the number of instructional hours served. Applied over thousands of classes per year, the overbilling added up to millions of dollars that should have gone to other districts...

College of the Desert inflated enrollment, overbilled state

November 30, 2012, 12:35 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch


The College of the Desert in Palm Desert will have to pay back $5.2 million because the district knowingly overstated its enrollment and overbilled the state for seven years, a pattern that the state Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team characterized as potential fraud.

The state chancellor’s office forwarded the matter to the Riverside County district attorney’s office in a letter Thursday. Without naming any individuals, the report says the president at that time, Jerry Patton, unnamed members of the "senior management team" and a consultant knew the college was submitting false reports.

The penalty is significant, representing about 15 percent of the district’s $34 million annual budget. But the chancellor’s office has ensured district officials they will be able to pay back the money on a schedule that allows the district to remain fiscally sound, a college spokeswoman said...

Solano College to recruit higher-paying international students

November 21, 2012, 6:27 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch


Solano College will pay a consultant more than $100,000 over two years to recruit international students from Asia – at a time when the community colleges have undergone severe budget cuts and many in-state students are struggling to get the classes they need.

Solano College Superintendent-President Jowel Laguerre says the move will bring in additional revenues that will eventually help support the college’s bottom line. International students pay about $197 more per unit than local students at Solano.

But the academic senate has weighed in against the plan, saying it could have a negative effect on local students, was approved without adequate faculty input and might not pencil out financially.

The move comes as the University of California and California State University systems have increased the number of international and out-of-state students in an effort to increase tuition revenues.

The CSU system stoked controversy this year when officials announced they were closing spring enrollment for graduate programs for California residents but...

For-profit Career Education Corp. to close 23 campuses

November 13, 2012, 12:05 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch


For-profit college giant Career Education Corp. announced that it will close 23 of its 90 campuses and eliminate 900 jobs after the company reported a net loss this quarter of $33 million and a 23 percent drop in new student enrollment.

The company, which owns six campuses in California, has not said which of its campuses will close, but stated in a disclosure to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it wants to invest in campuses that have the strongest likelihood of delivering solid job placement rates for students and are the most efficient.

The company has not yet notified the campuses that will close but will begin to in the next 30 days, Chief Financial Officer Colleen O’Sullivan said in a conference call Friday.

In California, Career Education runs the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, the International Academy of Design & Technology in Sacramento, the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara and Ventura, and two Le Cordon Bleu campuses in Los Angeles and Sacramento...

Community college bucks trend on naming rights

November 6, 2012, 12:05 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch

uvw916a/Flickr Three Stages at Folsom Lake College will be renamed the Harris Center for the Arts, after the Los Rios Community College District's former chancellor. 

Cash-strapped colleges seem to take every opportunity to rustle up funding from donors for naming rights – College of the Desert recently named two buildings after two different donors, and City College of San Francisco even attempted in 2009 to get donors to sponsor individual classes.

But the Los Rios Community College District is bucking the trend. The Board of Trustees voted in August to honor outgoing district Chancellor Brice Harris by naming the district's performing arts center after him – for free. That has some community leaders balking at what they say are lost opportunities...

Advocates point to loan protection for community colleges

October 11, 2012, 12:05 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch


It’s been three years since Tyeisha Turner left her job at a call center to get her college degree. Even though the state waived her tuition at Antelope Valley College and she has a Pell Grant and works part time, it isn’t enough for the single mother of five to cover living expenses – so she has borrowed about $18,000 in federal loans.

Turner, 35, says the loans let her focus on her studies and work faster toward her goal of transferring to a four-year university.

“I definitely need it. It helps me continue my education,” Turner said. “Because I’m only working part time – 15 to 20 hours a week – that makes up for that income. You can't survive with just part-time employment. That doesn't cover the rent.”

Turner is among the 93,000 California community college students who borrowed federal loans in 2010-11. As big as that number is, it’s a tiny slice – about 4 percent – of all students who attend community colleges here. That’s partly because California’s community college tuition is the lowest in the nation and many students take only a class or two at a time...

Vocational students get more protections

September 27, 2012, 12:05 AM | Jennifer Gollan, The Bay Citizen


California’s private vocational schools must disclose critical details about the quality of their programs, including their accreditation status and graduation rates, under a bill signed yesterday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, will require vocational schools offering associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees to indicate in their course catalogs whether they are accredited. Schools that are not accredited must inform students of any drawbacks to their degrees, such as whether certifying agencies would prohibit them from taking licensing exams.

In addition, schools will have to post job placement and graduation rates, and how much graduates earn, among other data. The law also requires vocational schools to post annual reports, student brochures and course catalogues on their websites.


The legislation was sponsored by Assemblyman Marty Block, D-San Diego, in response to a series of stories by The Bay Citizen, which revealed California regulators’ lax oversight of for-profit vocational schools and diploma mills...

Academy of Art sues state agency over Cal Grant eligibility

September 11, 2012, 12:05 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch

Becky Snyder/Flickr

The Academy of Art University has sued the California Student Aid Commission, arguing the state agency should not have ruled the San Francisco college's students ineligible for Cal Grants in the 2012-13 academic year.

Under new rules signed into law in June, California colleges must have a student loan default rate of 15.5 percent or less and a graduation rate of 30 percent or higher for students to qualify for Cal Grants, which do not have to be repaid. The law exempts colleges where less than 40 percent of students borrow federal student loans, such as community colleges.

The goal of the new eligibility rules was to focus the state's limited financial aid dollars on colleges that provide a significant return on taxpayers' and students' investments in terms of jobs and degrees. The Academy of Art was one of 154 institutions [PDF] kicked out of the program this fall – most of which are for-profit colleges...

More protections for students at vocational schools close at hand

August 30, 2012, 12:05 AM | Jennifer Gollan, The Bay Citizen


California’s private vocational schools will be required to publicly disclose more key information – including accreditation status, job placement rates and graduation rates – under a new bill the Legislature passed this week.

The bill, authored by Assemblyman Marty Block, D-San Diego, chairman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

Block introduced his bill in February in response to a series of stories by The Bay Citizen that revealed California regulators’ lax oversight of for-profit vocational schools and diploma mills.


The Bay Citizen, sister site of California Watch, found that the state agency responsible for oversight, the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, had allowed dozens of unaccredited vocational schools to operate for decades without state approval or inspections. The agency also failed to investigate some complaints against schools and didn’t shut down illegal diploma mills – schools that offer...

More Calif. community colleges stop offering federal loans

August 29, 2012, 6:08 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch


A small but growing number of California community colleges have stopped participating in the federal loan program, cutting off these borrowing options for students out of fear that rising student loan default rates could lead to sanctions.

Some 16 colleges have stopped disbursing the loans, and at least one more school – Bakersfield College – is considering ending its participation in the program. That makes California home to more students without access to federal loans than any other state, according to data collected by the Institute for College Access and Success, an Oakland-based nonprofit.

College officials say they stopped participating in federal loans because they were worried that an increase in student loan defaults would jeopardize their ability to offer federal grants. Colleges where students default on federal loans at high rates for several years in a row stand to lose eligibility for federal grants under sanctions issued by the U.S. Department of Education.

But some advocacy groups and student loan experts say the colleges are exaggerating the risk of sanctions and are unnecessarily pushing students toward more expensive and riskier borrowing options. They say colleges should work to improve their default rates rather than cut off federal loans for...

As college tuition soars, fairness questions arise

August 29, 2012, 12:05 AM | Jon Marcus, The Hechinger Report

Michael Short/California Watch Freshman Howard Chiao (center), who is from Taiwan, said UC Berkeley takes advantage of international students by charging high tuition. 

A sophomore at UC Berkeley, June Ahn comes from a family whose income is just enough to put her past the reach of much financial aid. So, like many students, Ahn is using loans to underwrite her education.

To make matters worse, she comes from Washington, not California, so she pays 2.5 times as much as in-state tuition. And she pays it even though, as an underclassman, she’s still taking large-enrollment classes that cost the university much less to provide than smaller, upperclass courses and seminars.

It gives Ahn little consolation to know that some of her money is likely being used to subsidize the educations of her lower-income, in-state, and junior and senior classmates.

“I’m not in a better financial position than any of the students I would be helping to subsidize,” said Ahn, whose anticipated major – political science – also is cheaper for the university to provide than majors for science and engineering students who, at UC Berkeley, are charged the same as she is. “But I have an extra almost $10,000 that I still need to pay.”...

Trailer bill seeks shorter sanctions for Cal Grants eligibility

August 28, 2012, 12:05 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch


A controversial last-minute provision inserted last week into an education trailer bill could help the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and a handful of other sanctioned schools regain eligibility for Cal Grants next fall instead of having to wait until the following year.

The academy's students are losing access to Cal Grants this fall because the institution's 2010-11 graduation rate dipped below the minimum required by state law. Its newest graduation rate cleared the hurdle, however, meaning it could regain the grants in fall 2013 instead of fall 2014 if the trailer bill passes.

At issue is current language in the Education Code that says a sanctioned school "may regain its eligibility for the academic year following an academic year in which it satisfies the requirements."

Under the Education Code, the California Student Aid Commission determines a school's Cal Grant eligibility for the 2012-13 year based on October 2011 data...

Community college districts' bonds inflate taxpayers' repayments

August 22, 2012, 12:05 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch

Greg Younger/Flickr

Several California community college districts have sold bonds that allow them to put off payments for up to 40 years, causing the total repayment to cost taxpayers from five to nine times the principal.

Poway Unified School District made headlines this month for issuing a bond for $108 million that will end up costing taxpayers nearly $1 billion over 40 years.

Poway has become the poster child for long-term capital appreciation bonds, increasingly common but controversial tools that enable districts to get cash now for voter-approved construction programs, while delaying the payments and tax levy for decades.

A retired Detroit Free Press reporter, Joel Thurtell, reported on Poway's bond sale on his blog. After Voice of San Diego reported in-depth on the deal Aug. 6, the story garnered national attention.


The Los Angeles treasurer and tax collector’s office has taken an aggressive stance against long-term versions of these bonds...

UC, others file briefs in Supreme Court affirmative action case

August 20, 2012, 12:05 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch

Gary Blakeley/Shutterstock U.S. Supreme Court 

Although the upcoming Supreme Court case on the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions policy will be largely irrelevant in the Golden State, the University of California and others have filed briefs to emphasize that if the nation goes the way of California, then diversity – and the educational benefits that come with it – will suffer.

The UC president and chancellors, the state of California, the California Institute of Technology and a group of student organizations at UC campuses are among at least 69 organizations that have filed amicus – or friend of the court – briefs in support of the University of Texas at Austin.

At least 15 groups filed amicus briefs in support of Abigail Fisher, who filed the original lawsuit against University of Texas after she was denied undergraduate admission in 2008...

Colleges freeze, reduce tuition as public balks at further price increases

August 13, 2012, 12:05 AM | Jon Marcus, The Hechinger Report

Photo courtesy Sewanee: The University of the South University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., cut tuition 10 percent last year. 

As an undergraduate at the UC Irvine, Christopher Campbell was almost forced to drop out by repeated double-digit increases in tuition – some in the middle of the academic year – to compensate for massive state budget cuts.

Campbell ultimately made it through and is starting law school at UC Irvine this fall. But he watched classmates driven out of college by the unpredictable midyear price increases.

Now he’s pushing an amendment to the California Constitution that would ban public universities from raising tuition for students after they’ve enrolled.

“Students and families are fed up,” Campbell said. “And that’s only going to get worse. As more and more students have to deal with these problems, it’s just going to keep building until the problem is fixed.”


After three decades of tuition hikes that have outpaced inflation and increases in family income, students, families, legislators and governing boards are demanding a halt...

Senate report finds large cost gap between public, for-profit colleges

August 7, 2012, 12:05 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch

Jeramey Jannene/Flickr

Among the findings of a U.S. Senate committee’s recently released investigation of the nation’s for-profit college industry is a stark assessment of the huge gap between what it costs to get a degree or certificate from a career college and the price tag of a comparable program at a public college or university in California.

The two-year investigation [PDF] by the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee took a sweeping look at 30 for-profit education institutions nationwide, combing through financial statements, internal company documents and other data to create a picture of a sector that it says fails to provide adequate return on investment for students and taxpayers.

Republicans on the committee criticized the report as biased, as did organizations representing the for-profit sector. Steve Gunderson, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, said in a statement that the report "twists the facts to fit a narrative...

SF college spends 92 percent of budget on salaries, benefits

August 1, 2012, 12:05 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch


The accreditation commission that has threatened to sanction City College of San Francisco has cited the fact that 92 percent of the college’s spending goes to salaries and benefits as a main factor in its financial problems – and community college district officials attribute the high percentage to a history of generous pay and benefits for employees, including faculty, staff and administrators.

While higher education observers say many community college districts have scaled back benefits for retirees in the last 20 years, City College has not, for the most part.

The California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office does not track districts' spending on salaries and benefits as a percentage of total expenditures in a way that is easily compared, making it difficult to say where City College's spending ranks.

"This analysis is something we don’t do and have not done before because it is an area we don’t administer or regulate," Fred Harris, assistant vice chancellor of college finance and facilities planning for the chancellor's office, said in an email.

In fact, while the chancellor's office keeps an eye on districts that are operating close to the fiscal edge, City College of San Francisco was not one of the districts the chancellor's office considered to be in fiscal crisis...

Criminal case settled with UC regents over UCLA lab fire

July 27, 2012, 12:59 PM | Jim Morris, Center for Public Integrity

Courtesy of the Sangji family Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji had been working as a UCLA research associate for less than three months when she accidentally spilled a spontaneously combustible chemical and severely burned nearly half of her body. She died 18 days later.  

A landmark criminal case involving the 2009 death of a young UCLA laboratory researcher was resolved in part today after the University of California Board of Regents agreed to adopt a series of safety measures and establish a scholarship in the researcher’s name.

Sheharbano "Sheri" Sangji, 23, was badly burned in a fire in UCLA’s Molecular Sciences Building on Dec. 29, 2008. She died 18 days later.

Last December, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office filed a felony complaint against UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran and the UC regents, alleging that they had failed to train and provide protective gear to Sangji, who at the time of the accident was handling an extremely volatile chemical that combusts upon contact with air.


The deal with the regents was announced by the district attorney. In a 38-page settlement agreement, the regents “acknowledge and accept responsibility for the...

More Calif. colleges contract with debit card firm criticized for fees

July 24, 2012, 12:05 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch

Altin Osmanaj/Shutterstock.com

Nearly half of the state’s community colleges and a handful of other higher education institutions now disburse student financial aid on debit cards through contracts with Higher One, a financial firm that has garnered increasing scrutiny for charging multiple fees, aggressive marketing tactics and privacy concerns.

At least 52 California Community Colleges use the company, from Imperial Valley College to Shasta College. CSU Fresno also contracts with the company.

Earlier this year, Ventura College student Sherry McFall filed a class-action lawsuit against Higher One, claiming the company created banking accounts for students without their consent, lured them into using Higher One accounts and improperly disclosed fees. An attorney for Higher One said the case has no merit.


A May report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund identified Higher One as the biggest player of its kind in the higher education market, with 520 partner campuses that enroll more than 4.3 million students. The report noted that many banking or debit card arrangements between financial firms and colleges feature weak consumer protections and limit students’ options...

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