City College of San Francisco Grapples with Critical Shortage of Introductory English Classes


City College of San Francisco (CCSF) is currently grappling with a critical shortage of introductory English classes, a situation that has led to long waitlists and significant barriers for students aiming to complete their programs.

This shortage is not just an academic inconvenience; it directly impacts students' ability to graduate and pursue further education or career opportunities. The issue has sparked a heated debate between the college's faculty union, which is calling for the hiring of more instructors, and the administration, which is concerned about the financial sustainability of such moves.

City College of San Francisco Grapples with Critical Shortage of Introductory English Classes

(Photo : PEXELS / Katerina Holmes)

A Bottleneck in the English Department

The City College of San Francisco (CCSF) is experiencing a substantial deficit in basic English courses, leading to waitlists exceeding 200 students. Many of these students require the course to complete their programs and obtain their degrees. The American Federation of Teachers 2121, the faculty union, has urged college administrators to boost course sections and recruit more teachers. However, administrators are concerned about the financial implications of new hires.

The shortage stems from a series of layoffs in 2022, which included six tenured English faculty members and around 20 part-time English instructors. Chancellor David Martin, who is leaving for a new position at Sierra College, defended the layoffs as necessary for the long-term financial health of the college. This choice incited protests and anger among the faculty. Newly elected trustees, backed by the union, ran their campaigns on pledges to reemploy the faculty who had been laid off.

Despite some rehiring efforts, the problem persists. Lizzie Brock, an English faculty member, reported that 287 students were wait-listed for English 1A, an introductory English course, this spring. Although 82 students eventually secured spots, 205 students were still unable to take the course. This is especially worrisome because English 1A is a requirement for numerous programs and is essential for transferring to a four-year college. Brock emphasized the importance of the course for developing essential skills like essay writing, library research, and time management.

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Financial Constraints and Enrollment Challenges

The administration at CCSF faces a difficult balancing act. Alan Wong, president of the Board of Trustees, acknowledges the need to prioritize high-demand courses like English 1A. However, he believes reallocating existing resources rather than hiring additional faculty is a more financially prudent approach. The college has recently achieved a balanced budget and reserves after years of financial challenges and deficit spending. Wong aims to maintain this financial stability through "employee attrition" and by leaving some positions unfilled.

The discussion about introductory English courses mirrors a larger conversation about the future trajectory of the college. Should CCSF aim to grow enrollment or continue downsizing as student numbers decline? The college saw a 10 percent enrollment increase this academic year, adding 1,000 full-time students. However, this came after a decade of declining enrollment, exacerbated by the pandemic. Student headcount in credit programs dropped from 41,142 in the 2018-19 academic year to 26,584 in 2022-23.

California community colleges are also transitioning to a new state funding formula based on enrollment and student success metrics. CCSF has the option to take advantage of a "hold harmless" provision, allowing it to receive the same funding as under the old formula, but with no cost-of-living adjustments. Wong believes that increasing enrollment by 8 percent annually for the next three years could lead to more funding under the new formula, providing an incentive to offer high-demand classes.

The Human Impact

The impact of the shortage of introductory English classes extends beyond administrative and financial concerns. Students like Vincent Lopes and Betsy Espinoza have firsthand experience of the challenges caused by the bottleneck. Lopes, studying computer networking and cybersecurity, described how English 1A provided him with an academic foundation after his time in the Coast Guard. Despite his initial nervousness, the course taught him essential skills like research paper writing and accessing tutoring services.

Espinoza, who took English 1A this past semester, emphasized the support provided by classes with assigned tutors. She viewed the course as crucial for her academic success and expressed concern that cutting these classes would set future students up for failure. The lack of available courses can discourage students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds or communities of color, from pursuing their education.

The faculty union and some professors, like Brock and Rick Baum, advocate for increasing the number of introductory English sections. They argue that cutting classes exacerbates structural inequalities and denies students valuable educational opportunities. Baum also highlighted that other essential courses, such as English as a Second Language and nursing prerequisites, have seen similar reductions, further limiting students' options.

Davis Jenkins, a senior research scholar at the Community College Research Center, noted that community colleges often face challenges in providing sufficient mandatory courses. He emphasized the need for better scheduling and coordination between academic advisers and deans to ensure students can take the classes they need when they need them.

The shortage of introductory English classes at City College of San Francisco highlights the complex interplay between financial constraints, enrollment challenges, and the educational needs of students. Addressing this issue requires a careful balance of resource allocation, strategic planning, and a commitment to providing equitable educational opportunities for all students.

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