Two-year colleges are seeing the first signs of relief from years of cost-cutting that produced a virtual stranglehold on students' ability to sign up for needed classes.
A new California Community Colleges survey shows that campuses in the Sacramento region and statewide are enlarging their summer course offerings, thanks to voter-approved state tax hikes and an economic recovery.
Some college officials say they also are planning more classes for fall and spring semesters, particularly in high-demand subjects such as math, English and science.
Woodland Community College District is bumping the volume of its summer classes 43 percent compared with summer 2012, the survey shows. That's equal to 13 more offerings this summer. Officials there say they still are finalizing the lineup for the fall semester.
Sierra College in Rocklin is enlarging its summer course offerings more than 60 percent - or 136 more courses.
Sierra President William Duncan said the number of courses also will grow in the fall and likely will do so in spring 2014.
"What's the direct impact to students? There are going to be 4,000 more seats filled," Duncan said.
Sierra College student Andrew Rohrer, 20, was happy with the news.
Rohrer, student body vice president, said he was able to sign up for only one class when he enrolled last fall. So he attended as many classrooms as he could and asked professors if he could get in.
Over time, he landed five classes and a full course load.
"It's ridiculous that students would have to do that," Rohrer said. "I worked the system as much as I could."
With the summer class increase, Rohrer said he feels relief. "It really does have a huge impact on students," he said.
Sierra College's Marisa Magallanes, 22, student body president, said her experience was better - but that's because she is visually impaired and is automatically granted priority.
"It has been easier for me," she said. "But I hear stories from other students that it was tough. They'd have to take a semester off, or they would have to go to three different schools just to get a full course load."
The survey involved 112 of the state's community colleges. Among respondents, 67 percent indicated plans to offer more summer courses than last year.
Still, it will take years to recover lost ground.
California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris said colleges saw $1.5 billion in cuts in five years and turned away 600,000 students.
Woodland Community College has seen a steady decline in fall and spring course offerings. In spring 2011, for example, there were 344 classes in the lineup. This spring the number was 276.
Angela Fairchilds, president at Woodland, said the cuts meant that waiting lists were growing longer. Among students who did get into classes, fewer were dropping the classes.
A summer class boost will not occur at Los Rios Community College District, which has four colleges in the region.
Sue Lorimer, vice chancellor of education and technology, said the district instead plans to use any additional budget money for fall or spring courses if there is demand. The current enrollment of about 80,000 students is expected to be about the same in the fall.