Every community college, CSU, and UC are making painful cuts. It’s not fair. Our students did not create the economic mess that we are in. Yet, they are paying the price. I want to take off my “president’s hat” for this post and share some advice with students. I am writing from multiple perspectives: as a former community college student who transferred into an impacted major at a 4-year university; as a former CSM faculty member who also served as an academic advisor; finally, as the parent of a student who recently transferred from CSM to a 4-year university. Here is my advice:

1) Don’t panic and do not assume that all rumors are true. Lately I have heard many “doom and gloom” predictions on the campus. The most egregious is that we are cutting half of our class sections next semester or that it will take up to five years to transfer. Both rumors are absolute nonsense. This spring we will offer more than 1,000 sections—the same as last year. While it is more difficult to transfer because of cuts at CSU and UC, transferring within a reasonable timeframe is still very achievable.

2) Take personal responsibility for your educational plan. It is important that you be an active participant in your educational planning. Continue to work with your counselor or advisor, but go to your counseling appointment well-informed and ask a lot of questions. Our health care system has evolved to the point where doctors expect patients to ask many questions and to be proactive about their health. Like your own health care, you need to be proactive about your “educational health”.

3) If you plan to transfer, be realistic and make your decision regarding your preferred transfer destination sooner, rather than later. Do not be discouraged by the news headlines. You still have a better chance of getting into your preferred transfer institution from CSM than you do if you are trying to enter that same university as a high school senior. My own daughter transferred from CSM to her first-choice university this year. She transferred as a junior and was accepted to every university to which she applied. Don’t rule out private or out of state institutions. Many offer generous tuition assistance and scholarship programs and may not be all that more costly than California’s public universities. Make sure that you complete your IGETC or CSU GE requirements. Also, complete as many lower-division major requirements as you can. The sooner you know where you want to go, the sooner that you can work on the requirements specific to your transfer institution. Finally, take full advantage of our Transfer Center at collegeofsanmateo.edu/transfer. Don’t be afraid to reach for the college of your dreams. But be realistic too. The most important thing is that you earn your baccalaureate degree.

4) Get an AA degree even if you plan to transfer. You can earn an AA by taking one or two extra classes. An AA degree is a good “insurance policy” just in case your education is interrupted.

5) If you are in an AA degree or certificate program, ask about our scheduling patterns. We do our absolute best to offer as many courses as possible within a degree or certificate program, but we do not necessarily offer every course requirement each semester. Ask your teacher or the dean about the likely schedule offerings for the next several semesters.

6) It does not matter where you start, it’s where you end up that matters. As I look back, I can honestly say that my community college courses and the professors who taught those courses were among the “best of the best”. I did not take my high school education seriously. However, I was very serious about my college education from day one. Because I was a serious student, I was fortunate enough to land a highly desirable job right out of college. I found myself was working side by side with graduates from some of the best universities in the country. In the “real world” it’s all about what you can do. Nobody cared that I started at a community college. This is your time. Learn for the sake of learning; academic and professional success will follow.

7) Never give up, be flexible, and have multiple backup plans. I mentioned that I was in an impacted major at my transfer institution. Required classes were extraordinarily difficult to get. In the old days students had to go to the gym and stand in a very long line to register for classes. I remember my very first registration experience. Closed classes were posted on a bulletin board every 30 minutes. Those of us in line groaned each time that the closed class list was updated. Every single first and second choice course that I had selected was closed. I had to completely re-write my schedule several times while the registration line was marching forward. I had to make quick decisions because I did not want to lose my place in line. I did not get all the classes that I wanted my first quarter. However, by being flexible, creative, and persistent, I was able graduate on time.

We are going through a tough time and the state budget crisis has stifled our ability to meet unprecedented student demand. Don’t lose hope. We are all dedicated to do the very best that we can to help you achieve your goals. One final word: register for spring semester classes ASAP!