Draining brains

More students are choosing colleges away from Sacramento

Aisha Garrido ponders her transfer to Sacramento State in the Transfer Center at Folsom Lake College.

Aisha Garrido ponders her transfer to Sacramento State in the Transfer Center at Folsom Lake College.

Photo By larry dalton

Heading into the new school year, local community-college students are increasingly paying the price for ongoing state budget cuts to higher education. This could end up costing the Sacramento region as well.

With fees likely to rise to $46 a unit by next summer, and fewer courses meaning delayed graduation rates, numbers show that students from the Los Rios Community College District are increasingly transferring to schools outside of the area.

“For the first time ever, transfers are higher to private and out-of-state schools [than local schools], and that got our attention,” Susie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Los Rios district, said.

A report released this summer by the community-college district showed that in 2009-2010, some 3,213 students chose the private or out-of-state school option, compared to 2,222 students who transferred to California State University or University of California schools. Comparatively, those numbers were higher for CSU and UC transfers from 2007 to 2009, when about 500 more students chose California public schools. As part of that, transfers to Sacramento State—traditionally the top destination for Los Rios students—have declined by 30 percent over the last five years.

Instead, students chose schools as diverse as Stanford University and the University of Iowa.

Although some higher-education officials chalk up the change in student transfers to recent budget cuts, they share Williams concern about a possible “brain drain” in the region.

“It is a concern,” Scott Lay, head of the Community College League of California in Sacramento, said. “If [students] leave, we want them to come back, but they also have to go where there are jobs.”

Last fall, Lay’s organization proposed California increase its number of community-college graduates by 1 million by 2020. That benchmark is seen as essential for nurturing the state’s economy and workforce. But the same economy, currently troubled and in a program-slashing mode, could make the 1 million target harder to reach.

“Other states are stepping up with financial aid, and it’s also easier for students to get through quickly and not have to hang around and wait to graduate,” Williams said.

At the same time, the course offerings and services such as library hours continue to go down at the four Los Rios schools—Sacramento City College, Folsom Lake College, American River College and Cosumnes River College. This summer, for instance, state budget cuts forced the schools to cut 330 sections, or roughly 25 percent of its courses. The district also turned away around 18,000 students this fall due to limited resources.

With such cuts past the muscle and well into the educational bone, Joseph Sheley, a provost at Sacramento State, said the flow of talent and smarts away from the region could be problematic.

“It is a concern that private and out-of-state schools are taking some of our best students,” he told SN&R. “We’d like to keep our best students, but the economy also has to give them something to do.”

For those who do stay and who do qualify for Sacramento State, which expects to enroll about 28,000 this fall, Sheley stressed the need to be prepared.

“There is less room for [academic] experimentation these days,” he said, while noting that prospective students need to apply by August 31 for the spring semester.

Sheley also added that students who aren’t sure if they want to go to college may be squeezed out.

“It’s a trickle-down effect,” he said. “The UCs are taking more international and out-of-state students who pay higher tuition, which pushes out students to CSUs, which pushes out community-college students.”

One student who plans to stay in the area is Folsom Lake College student Aisha Garroni, who agreed that transfer students have to be prepared.

“Be sure to meet with a counselor early on and know what classes you need to transfer and for your major,” she said, adding that her plan is go to Sacramento State in the fall and hopes to go into law enforcement as a detective.

She added it took her a semester to go through the transfer paperwork process. “It’s harder and harder to get into classes, and there is lots of waiting, so be sure to register early,” she advised.