Enrollment at the state’s community colleges is soaring at a time when state support to higher education is in a steep slide.
For the system, which offers a lifeline to low-income students and those upgrading skills to rejoin the workforce, the result is an increasing reliance on adjunct professors and inflated class sizes.
Colorado ranks 48th in the nation in state funding per resident student for public universities and colleges. Since fiscal year 1989- 90, state support for higher education has dropped to 9 percent of the general-fund budget from 20.3 percent.
The ongoing erosion has resulted in cuts and tuition increases at all the state’s institutions of higher education.
Community colleges aren’t the only schools with growing student bodies, but they are experiencing the most dramatic increases in enrollment.
The Colorado Community College System’s 13 schools have added 28,000 students over the past two years, said Nancy McCallin, CCCS president.
‘Because of strong enrollment growth, many of our colleges are at capacity,’ McCallin said.
At Community College of Denver, where enrollment jumped 21 percent this fall over the same period last year, and 35 percent in the previous year, overcrowding has pushed school facilities to the limit.
CCD turned staff lounges, offices and conference centers into classrooms, and classes have been held in theaters at the Starz FilmCenter in the Tivoli Student Union Center on campus. Classes have even been held outside in good weather, McCallin said.
To provide more room, students voted to add a fee that will rise gradually to $8 per credit hour by 2013 to build a Student Learning and Success Building. It will provide CCD with significant new classroom space and room for other academic and student programs that the institution lacks.
At Pueblo Community College, students last spring voted to boost fees by $84 a semester to pay for $9 million in improvements to the campus.
The schools have shifted some courses online and eliminated others to make up for dwindling state funding.
‘We have canceled a lot of programs because of low enrollment, and we have shifted more to online instruction because we can teach them at lower cost,’ McCallin said.
The community-college system has always depended heavily on part- time adjunct faculty. But the number of adjuncts has been climbing as the schools try to keep costs down, said Todd Bergren, professor of biology at Community College of Aurora.
The system’s 135,000 students saw a 9 percent tuition increase in each of the past two years. Students’ bills could rise by that much again next year. But tuition remains one of the best bargains in the state, at about $2,700 per year for a 30-credit load, McCallin said.
The CCCS has long paid faculty at a lower rate than similar schools across the nation. Full-time faculty on average make about $46,000 a year, $10,000 less than the national average. And part- time adjunct professors, who make up about 62 percent of the faculty, make between $1,500 and $1,800 for each course they teach.
The low pay can be a hindrance to recruitment, said Gayle Krzemien, a member of the mathematics faculty at Pikes Peak Community College.
‘We had a real crisis last year because enrollment was exploding and they were struggling to find faculty,’ Krzemien said. ‘Eventually, they did cover all the classes or were able to move students into other sections.’
Even some neighboring states can offer enough to lure faculty away, Bergren said.
‘They say I can make more in Wyoming,’ he said.