At Santa Rosa Junior College, the early days of math class can come with some hard lessons in economics — or least in the realities of supply and demand.
Instructor John Martin often begins courses with lotteries to decide who in the overflow of students gets the final few spots freed up by no-shows.
One section filled so quickly this semester that six weeks before school resumed he started getting e-mail requests seeking entry to the closed class.
"There was like an avalanche the first week of December of students that wanted to add my Math 1A," said Martin, a three-decade veteran of the school.
It doesn't take calculus, though, to figure that such scenarios are all but certain to increase next year. This week SRJC President Robert Agrella sent out a campus-wide e-mail to outline the school's "grim" outlook ahead of projected cuts to state community college funding.
In the best scenario, SRJC may escape with a $4.9 million cut, approximately 5 percent of its budget, according to Agrella's e-mail. In the worst, it could lose more that $13 million.
In either case, the school soon will be taking a knife to its class catalogue just two years after it reduced sections by 10 percent. The current projection is for roughly another 10 percent cut.
"It's not a question of whether course sections will be reduced, but rather a question of which ones," Agrella said.
For students, the resulting squeeze is likely to come from two directions. Not only will there be fewer classes, there may be more competitors seeking them as both the California State University system and the University of California face possible enrollment reductions because of their own budget woes.
The dilemma is prompting a hard look at how community colleges across the state set enrollment priorities. Unlike four-year institutions, community colleges are open to all; they just give different students different priority. Those in the back of the line can get slim pickings indeed.