The cost of attending Santa Rosa Junior College would raise 38.5 percent under the budget Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled Monday — with tuition hikes also likely at Sonoma State University.
But the potential pain of paying more could be overshadowed by increased frustration at getting classes at all.
Brown's proposal slices $400 million off the state community college system's funding, a 6.8 percent reduction. Exactly where that money would come from remains to be seen, but the ramifications would likely force SRJC to significantly cut academic offerings.
"That would mean real additional belt-tightening," said Robert Agrella, SRJC's president. "The only way we could begin to look at it would be large additional reductions in the schedule of classes."
Agrella said he understood dire times called for dire measures and was grateful that Brown called for the cuts in next year's budget rather than in mid-year.
"If we're going to get reductions, at least he gave us a little more breathing room and a little more time to plan for them," he said.
But Scott Lay, president of Community College League of California, said the budget process was beginning from a worse than expected starting point. If voters don't approve tax increases, the colleges could lose an additional $500 million, he said.
Lay said he hoped colleges would be able to make reductions on their own rather than having a mandate to reduce areas like art or physical education.
"They need to help us to have a sensible community college budget, and we're not there yet," he said. "We really want to keep it as much as possible a college-by-college examination of what courses are putting students to work."
For student Dakota Spillman, the more immediate concern was the proposed increase in fees from $26 to $36 a unit, which would equate to an additional $120 to $150 a semester for someone taking a full-load.
The 19-year-old Santa Rosa High graduate was already fretting about digging herself into debt before she finishes her first year of college. The prospect of more fees only upped the anxiety.
"I am just literally keeping my fingers crossed for financial aid," she said.
But even at $36 a unit, California community colleges would be the cheapest system in the country with full-time fees one third the national average, according to the governor's office.
And many students won't feel the increase at all. Approximately half of all students at California community colleges receive fee waivers that would continue to cover the cost of classes under Brown's budget.
At SRJC, nearly 11,000 of 46,000 students received a fee waiver in 2009-2010, the most recent data available on the California Community College's Chancellor's Office web site.
Brown's proposed cut to the CSU would amount to about 18 percent of the system's budget, said Sonoma State University spokeswoman Susan Kashack.
Any such cut would be spread among the 23 campuses according to the number of students at each school, she said.
It's too early to know the potential impact on SSU, which has a $77 million budget and about 7,000 students, she said: "This is only day one here."
The university has already sustained about $16 million in budget cuts since the 2009-2010 academic year.
"Students are going to be concerned about, can they get into the university, can they get the classes they need to graduate?" she said.
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