For the past several years, college students in California have paid more but gotten less as the state cut hundreds of millions of dollars from higher education to address enormous deficits.
At community colleges, thousands of classes were eliminated, and fees escalated, climbing from $20 a unit in 2006-07 to $46 a unit this year.
Despite sharp increases, Santa Rosa Junior College officials say demand for classes has been at an all-time high — a product of stubborn unemployment and a floundering economy that spotlighted the importance of developing job skills and, sometimes, training for mid-career job changes.
But the steep fee hikes didn't offset steeper cuts in state funding, so many potential students were turned away at the door of full classes. Other students got priced out of school altogether.
Finally, there's some relief for beleaguered students and their families.
Santa Rosa Junior College is adding 500 classes over the summer, fall and spring sessions — restoring about half of the classes eliminated due to budget cuts over the past four years.
Proposition 30, a package of temporary tax increases approved by California voters in November, is providing a $6.3 million boost to the junior college, which is dedicating much of the money to restoring class offerings.
To help offset fees, the junior college also is resuming its unique financial aid program, the Doyle Scholarship, another victim of the Great Recession.
The recovery of another Santa Rosa institution, Exchange Bank, is bringing an end to a five-year hiatus for Doyle Scholarship program.
The grants are funded with the bank's dividends, which were suspended at the height of the financial crisis and couldn't be restored until the bank repaid money it received from the federal bailout program. The Treasury Department sold the last of its Exchange Bank stock last summer, clearing the way for a dividend of 25 cents per share.
Just as classes are coming back in stages, the Doyle program will resume on a smaller scale. Where it once provided $1,000 or more for any student with a 2.5 grade-point average, grants now will be $500, and they will be limited to 2013 high school graduates who earned a cumulative 3.0 average.
Even a smaller scholarship will allow some students to complete a certificate program, earn an associate's degree or prepare for a four-year university.
"Five hundred dollars is a lot," said Lori Chamberlin, a counselor at Elsie Allen High School. "With books and everything — textbooks are where it costs a lot — if they are smart, they can stretch it for the year."
California has a growing need for college-educated workers — managers, engineers, entrepreneurs, nurses, teachers and more. By some estimates, the state could be 1 million college graduates short of employer demand by 2025.
By adding more classes and offering more student aid, Santa Rosa Junior College is taking a welcome step toward meeting that demand.