Beyond cuts

Thousands of California students understand cuts perfectly well. Poor people who interact with state programs from financial aid to child care and food stamps are always on the verge of being cut: insecurity is a defining characteristic of our lives.

If, as the San Francisco Business Times recently wrote, “Bay Area community colleges essentially exist to train the local workforce,” then during this prolonged phase of crisis and contraction, one trend is simply to eliminate the unwanted. From Fall 2009 to Fall 2010, Peralta eliminated 591 class sections. During the same period, 8% of the statewide community colleges budget was cut by the State. Hundreds more class sections will be cut this year, mainly via $2.1 million in new cuts to part-time faculty.

Before 2009, the Peralta Board and administration generally saw access to enrollment as a high priority. In 2009, the number of enrolled students at Peralta exceeded the number of Full-Time Equivalent Students (FTES) funded by the State by 1,000. This means that Peralta received funding for the equivalent of 19,300 students each taking 15 credit hours/week at $4,564.83 per FTES, but actually had the equivalent of 20,300 full-time students enrolled. Now the Board and administration intend on pegging the number of enrolled students to declining FTES funding from the State while seeking out more lucrative international, UC undergraduate and fee-based students. As parts of the District are systematically eliminated, Peralta’s foreign student recruitment office includes “a full-time director who hunts the globe for students and a staff of eight full-time and 14 part-time workers.”

District-wide, the number of class sections has declined by 23%, while the number of enrolled students has increased by 19% from Fall ’09 to Fall ’10.  This is what Peralta management calls “high productivity,” meaning that the number of FTES per teacher is increasing. In reality, this translates into packed classrooms and stressed-out, mostly part-time, at-will faculty.

In an attempt to collect funds, Peralta instituted a new collection system for Summer 2010. Students who enroll before the semester begins need to pay up within 10 business days; students who add after the beginning of the term must pay all fines and fees immediately or be dropped from their classes and have their debt sent to collections. As every semester passes, hundreds more East Bay youth will be denied access to Peralta schools, even if enrollment remains steady. Like any gentrification process, it seems almost imperceptible from the outside but clear and alarming to the gentrified.

As less profitable classes are eliminated, they are replaced by classes determined by capital’s need for workers with certain skill sets. The College of Alameda hosts the Allied Transportation and Logistics Academic Support (ATLAS) program, a series of classes to prepare students for careers in logistics and warehousing. The program is the result of a “a report generated by the Oakland Partnership, a group put together by Oakland’s Chamber of Commerce and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums…The report identified five industries the city should focus on developing, including transportation logistics.” Industry, local government and six community colleges collaborated to receive over $5 million in federal and job training funds for the program.

Peralta and Laney in particular are developing a reputation as a hub for “green job” training in the fields of energy efficiency retrofits, auditing and sales. The Laney “green jobs” program was designed by an industry advisory council of over 40 companies. On June 29, Peralta announced it had received a $2.9 million federal grant to expand these green programs. This training is directed at the structurally unemployed; the majority in the program are previously incarcerated. “The program…utilizes proven best practices designed to help those who need to be retrained or have been disconnected from meaningful job training opportunities so they can access employment that will pay a livable wage,” said an Alameda County Supervisor. The role of the community college is increasingly apparent: to identify people who can be (re)trained, provide them with “work skills” (show deference to the boss, get to work on time, be productive) and knowledge necessary for competing in the  information economy. It’s unclear whether participants actually find much paid work as a result; the training program at Solar Richmond placed 32 out of 160 graduates in the solar-related jobs, for example. These trainings also act as a valve to regulate the flatlands dispossessed, either back into manageable wage labor, or more generally through the progressive Oakland Democratic/non-profit machinery. That said, any program that can create jobs for poor people and people of color in the still-segregated building trades is an achievement.

This “greening” is part of a broader strategic shift in the welfare state. Student services that primarily support low-income women of color like CalWORKs, EOPS, and child care are slashed, eliminating support for working-class moms to enter or sustain themselves in the labor market. At the same time, there is a dramatic influx of restricted public funds for more profitable growth sectors of the economy. The result at Laney is that a greater proportion of the college is created and funded (colonized) by capital and its needs.

It’s time to ask fundamental questions: who runs Peralta, and why?

Who determines what we learn, and how?

What is a community college for?

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