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Staff cuts could increase college bills

Associated Press / October 13, 2009

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SAN FRANCISCO - It isn’t just tuition increases that are driving up the cost of college. Around the country, deep budget cuts are forcing colleges to lay off instructors and eliminate some classes, making it harder for students to get into the courses they need to earn their degree.

The likely result: more time in college. And while that may sound agreeable to nostalgic alumni, time is money to students.

Policymakers right up to President Obama have been calling on public colleges to move students through more efficiently, and some have been doing so. But advocates say any recent progress is threatened by unprecedented state budget cuts that have trimmed course offerings.

“They will not graduate on time. I hope they will graduate at all,’’ said David Baggins, who as chairman of political science at Cal State University-East Bay has been bombarded with requests for spots in already packed classes.

“Before,’’ Baggins said, “there was always a way to help the student who really needed help.’’ This year, “all I can do is say no.’’

Some students struggle for places in the core entry-level classes such as composition and math because the part-time instructors who typically teach those courses are the first to be laid off in tough times. Other students are shut out of crowded core courses in their majors by upperclassmen. Some upperclassmen face an even tougher road: The upper-level classes they need have been cut entirely because they aren’t popular enough.

A federal study of 1999-2000 graduates found it takes students roughly 4.5 years on average to earn a bachelor’s degree. About two-thirds of traditional-age college students who finished got through within five. A study of 2009 graduates is not yet complete.