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By CCA President Eric Kaljumägi

I was recently on an airplane after getting my third COVID booster shot. The seats were filled and only a few people were wearing masks. According to OAG Aviation, airline travel has fully recovered from 2020 when it plunged by nearly 70% and then stayed down by over 40% for an additional year. Air travel today now looks a lot like air travel in early 2019. Unfortunately, that recovery is not true of our community colleges.

First, enrollment at our colleges is still well below 2019 levels. The LA Times reported on November 18, 2022, that Fall 2021 headcount in our system had dropped 20% as compared to Fall 2019. While the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office doesn’t have Fall 2023 data yet, a review of 2022 and Spring 2023 data on the CCCCO Datamart shows that we’re not yet seeing a great improvement off of these pandemic lows. We’ve lost a lot of students.

Second, the financial support given to our colleges per Full-Time Equivalent Student (FTES) has barely kept up with inflation.  Between June 2019 (the start of the fiscal year that had the pandemic) and June 2023, the California Consumer Price Index went up 18.2%. Our state-funded COLA’s during that time were 3.26%, 2.70%, 2.31%, and 6.56% for a compounded total of 15.6%. With this year’s inflation somewhere between 3 and 4 percent and this year’s COLA 8.22%, by the end of this year we’ll be just about even – for the budget areas that received a COLA increase. Not every account in each district’s budget gets COLA.

Third, the rumored California recession has arrived and it looks to drench us like a winter storm. On December 7, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) issued a prediction that California will have a massive $68 billion deficit next year. This dwarfs the $24 billion the state has put aside in its reserves. The LAO’s report suggests that nearly $21 billion can be saved by reducing expenses under Proposition 98, but funding from this law provides most of our districts’ support.

Fourth, colleges are still adjusting to a series of laws this past few years that collectively reduce the funding our colleges receive. The Student-Centered Funding Formula of 2018 linked 30% of our funding to a series of metrics not aligned with a district’s expenses. AB 928 (2021) created a singular GE pattern that reduces the number of units required to graduate and consequently the average number of FTES generated by each actual student.  Also, AB 1705 (2022) essentially outlawed remediation in Math and English, which has led both to a rise in dropouts who no longer attend college as well as a rise in the number of students who need fewer math and English classes. This shrinks the FTES values even more.

Although many of us are quite attached to our college and go well beyond our job descriptions out of a sense of professionalism and pride in our work, we are still employees.  When you return to work in 2024, be aware that your district will be looking to save money.  They might attempt to contract out some of your dual enrollment work to high school teachers. They may be wary of providing pay raises, even if the legislature funds a new COLA, and they may press for permanent takebacks or new unpaid duties.

As one of your New Year’s resolutions, I hope you will consider reaching out to your local president and increase your involvement in your local. While California’s storms, both fiscal and climatic, won’t last forever, there are definitely clouds overhead. Support your union!

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