Photo: Calbright College
This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. June 23 to include new comments from Calbright's interim president.

Calbright College, on the brink of elimination by the Legislature, will survive in the 2020-21 budget that was agreed to Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders.

“Calbright will survive and continue to serve students with cuts in ongoing and one-time funding,” said Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee.

The college, which opened in the fall of 2019, is losing $5 million in ongoing funds, down from $20 million a year, according to a source close to the negotiations. It is also losing $40 million from the $117 million in unspent funds that it had previously received from the state in one-time funding.

Calbright’s Interim President Ajita Menon said the college is thankful that the governor and legislature recognized that the institution is “a critical part of the economic response.”

Menon said the college’s staff is still evaluating the effects of the budget, but they anticipate adjusting to the smaller funding amounts.

“It’s clear to us that we’re going to want to see changes in our model and shift to a lean operation,” she said. “But we still see tremendous opportunity for us to find ways to create spaces for education innovation.”

Menon said the college is still in “growth mode” and while they do plan to reassess finances based on the new budget numbers, they’re planning to hire about five to 10 new full-time faculty for July.

The state’s first online-only community college nearly faced elimination in early budget agreements between the state Senate and Assembly. A Legislative Analyst’s Office report on Newsom’s May budget revision estimated that eliminating the college would save about $137 million, including the $20 million in operating costs for next year and taking back $117 million in unspent funds. The report noted that the college, “has a very high cost per student, is currently unaccredited and largely duplicates programs at other colleges.”

Saving Calbright brought continued criticism from the community college system’s faculty union.

“We’re disappointed that at such a time that we need all options to make sure our local community colleges survive this pandemic and this financial crisis caused by the crisis, that they have not sought to eliminate Calbright and use those resources for current students,” California Federation of Teachers President Jeff Freitas said. The union represents 30,000 community college employees.

The union has frequently criticized Calbright for financial mismanagement and duplicating programs already offered at the other community colleges.

The college was seen as a bold initiative championed by former Gov. Jerry Brown to serve adult and underemployed populations of students working part-time or stuck in positions that don’t pay a living wage. Calbright has enrolled more than 523 people, with at least 60 of them completing the entry-level course and participating in one of the college’s three programs, according to Calbright’s data. The college’s first year enrollment goal was 400. Supporters said it would ultimately provide online skills for thousands of the state’s 8 million adults between the ages of 25 and 34 who were considered “stranded” because they were stuck in lower paying, low-skilled jobs.

EdSource reporter John Fensterwald contributed to this report.

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