Berkeley City College in Downtown Berkeley. Credit: Melati Citrawireja

In the last two years, Berkeley City College has cut 150 course sections and 27 full-time equivalent faculty positions, as community colleges in Alameda County and across the country face sharp enrollment declines

While the number of students at Berkeley City College — and at the countywide Peralta Community Colleges District — remained relatively constant during the pandemic, the number of “full-time equivalent students,” a number that reflects how many students are taking a full course load of 15 credits each semester, plummeted in the last two years. There were 2,620 full-time equivalent students at BCC this year, compared with 3,691 in 2019-20. 

In effect, students are taking far fewer courses per semester than in years prior, and the college has responded by slashing many of their sections with fewer than 25 students enrolled.

This is being done even though the college district isn’t yet facing the type of dramatic budget cuts that typically accompany falling enrollment numbers: The state legislature has frozen enrollment funds at pre-pandemic levels until 2025.

The district’s general fund, which it primarily pulls from to fund courses, has remained relatively constant over the last five years. Since 2017-18, the general fund revenue has even increased from $145.8 million to $148.7 million in 2021-22, with some fluctuation in between.

Angélica Garcia, president of Berkeley City College, said the district is seeing rising expenses and needs to prepare for a future enrollment cliff. Total expenses for the college district rose $3.2 million in the last five years, she pointed out, from $145.8 million in 2017-18 to $148.5 million in 2021-22.

Students, faculty, and leaders with the Peralta Federation of Teachers, the union representing Peralta colleges faculty, say that, as long as funding from the state remains steady, the colleges should not be axing classes.

“At a time when we are getting stable funding from the state, the cuts that are implemented should be done as far away from the classroom as possible,” said Jennifer Shanoski, the president of the union and Berkeley resident. The union has distributed a digital fact-sheet mobilizing students against the cuts.

“We should still be offering a full cadre of courses. We should be focused on smaller class sizes so that our students can get more support,” Shanoski said, adding that cutting courses is a vicious cycle that contributes to a decline in enrollment, causing students to enroll at other institutions or give up on school altogether. Shanoski also pointed out that district office spending rose $6 million in the last 5 five years, from $37.7 million in 2017-18 to $43.7 million.

Garcia said the cuts are an effective way to lower costs while still helping students meet their goals of either transferring to a four-year college or getting a job. 

“It certainly looks like we’re running a leaner schedule, but it’s the leaner schedule that is more aligned with our institutional mission,” Garcia said, adding that the goal is “to hopefully reduce the time that students might spend at our institution.” She said administrative positions still benefit students.

Students, faculty rally against cuts

Students and faculty, at BCC and across the Peralta District, are rallying to try to prevent more cuts, saying that limited section offerings and last-minute cancellations make it harder for students to complete their degrees and leave faculty in precarious positions.

If revenue hasn’t fallen off, “why then would you cut more classes and devastate an already devastated, disenfranchised demographic?” Courtney Morris, a Berkeley City College student, asked the Peralta Community College District board during its Tuesday night meeting. “Class offerings are already bleak in so many areas. I wanted to sign up for a women’s studies class this spring and when I searched for women’s studies classes across PCCD, there was just one.” 

Some of the course sections on the chopping block include ones that students need to complete their degrees. In the spring semester in 2020, there were 26 sections of Introduction to General Psychology at all the Peralta colleges. This semester, there were only four sections of the class.

“It just minimizes the resources of what a community college should be,” said Sameh Esmaeili Babadi, a student at BCC with plans to pursue medicine. “I shouldn’t have to go to an institution and beg them or have them do things differently.”

Students and alumni from Laney College, Merritt College and the College of Alameda also spoke at the Peralta board meeting in protest of similar cuts on their campuses.

Oakland Council Member Sheng Thao, who graduated from Merritt College as the valedictorian, said at the meeting that she opposed the cuts. “Cutting and canceling classes is not the answer,” she said, adding that if anything the district should expand the number of classes offered. 

“I can attest that access to higher education saved mine and my son’s lives. We were homeless, escaping a domestic violence relationship,” Thao said. “Completing my education was the light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Professor Michael Lin, who has taught political science and sociology at BCC since 2016, said his course was cut, forcing him to look for teaching jobs elsewhere. 

“When you’re unable to teach, that’s a big chunk of your life that you devoted a lot to that’s just sort of suddenly taken away,” Lin said. 

Garcia said full-time faculty are given priority to teach courses, which leaves part-time and adjunct faculty to bear the brunt of the course cuts.

“It’s an ongoing issue that’s become exacerbated that we’re sort of seeing the full effects of this year,” Lin said. 

Correction: A previous version of this story gave the wrong surname for Berkeley City College professor Michael Lin. It also referred to the number of sections of Introduction to Psychology offered at all the Peralta Colleges, not just Berkeley City College.

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Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...