State budget cuts to college campuses have sparked a lot of protest lately leaving many students paying higher tuition with fewer classes offered. At the community college level, there are even more challenges.
A recent study by CALPIRG, or the California Public Interest Research Group, finds that community college students are struggling just to stay in school.
Researchers talked to students about their work habits, their academics, and their schedules, and found out that many are working too hard to make the grade.Katie Anceravage wants to be a journalist some day.
She attends classes at City College but her associates degree - which she thought would take two years - will take double that.
“Yeah, it's taking a lot longer than I thought,” she said laughing.
The problem is that Katie, like most community college students, has a full college schedule as well as a full-time job.
"I'm a server at a restaurant downtown so I usually work nights," said Anceravage. "I work anywhere from six to ten hours, and I work anywhere from four to five nights a week depending on how much money I need."
That juggling act leaves little time for homework and lots of time for stress.
"I've noticed the last six months I've been stressed out and not myself, and little things bother me because I don't know when I'm going to get this assignment done," she said.
Working full time throws thousands of community college students off track.
"They are just basically earning a wage, minimum wage, and find it very difficult to find the time to manage their time to be able to include college as part of their priorities," said Edwin Hiel, City College Associate Professor.
Add to that cutbacks in classes and higher tuition-- and you begin to see why students like Katie are struggling harder than ever before to grab the modern American dream.
“I would like to do more but I can't kind of just doing the minimum to get by," said Anceravage.
The community college system in California educates six out of every ten college students but only 24 percent of those students actually achieve their goal of getting an associate's degree or moving on to a four-year school.
As students work long hours to pay tuition and bills in a bad economy fewer are able to focus on their academic future.
Student Olivia Beard is a child development major. And although she works full time, she cannot afford to get a job in her field.
“I work at an organic food store so I wanna get a job with children but they don't pay anything,” said Beard.
So she volunteers at a local elementary school to get experience.
“I can't get a job in the field because they only pay eight or nine dollars an hour. I can't live on that, I have to find other ways to get connections," said Beard.
She figures she'll get her degree in five years total but she has an edge - because she came to community college knowing what she wanted, and already having high reading and writing skills, which is key.
Those who will suffer the most.
"Community colleges have been able to give a lot of attention to our first generation, low income students who really come without a lot of support or a lot of guidance and again, I can see as the cuts continue, that's the student population that will suffer the most," said Hiel.
The CALPIRG study also points out that many students don't take advantage of financial aid because they assume they're not eligible.
And they're reluctant to borrow money to pay for their community college tuition.
Also, the California exit exam given to high school students before they can graduate only tests students at the tenth-grade level.
So when students get to college, some are still lacking in basic skills - which means more instruction is needed, and probably more time spent getting their degree.