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Blue Books and Red Tape

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We recently decided to supplement our bachelor's degree by taking a night class at Los Angeles City College. The class itself is fine, but the process of enrolling in it was a snarl of wasted time and red tape, which we can only expect will get worse if, as is the governor's plan, their funding gets cut. Given that the point of community colleges is ostensibly to make education more accessible to more people, this is a frightening state of affairs.

We filled out an admission form online and received notification by mail within a few days that we could enroll in the school. So far, so good. We then attempted to enroll in the class online, but the system would not let us do so because it had no record that we had met the prerequisite for the class. So we called the school and explained that we had taken enough math in high school to prepare us for a college-level statistics class. No dice. "If you'd taken intermediate algebra in college, that would be fine, but high school calculus wouldn't count. You have to take a placement test."

OK, fine, can we sign up for the placement test?

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"Sure, go to Room 112."

Can we sign up on the phone?

"No."

We go over to the campus — which, because our car is in the shop, involves four subway and bus rides, round trip, to travel three miles — and spend one minute signing up to take the test the next day.

Having passed the test, we receive word from the student workers that we "don't have to take math; you know enough math to get a bachelor's degree," which is comforting to hear as we already HAVE ONE. Also, we get a piece of paper saying that we know enough math.

We then attempt to enroll in the class. This involves going to one room to get a piece of paper, and then going to another and standing in line for 20 minutes in order to be told that the professor needs to sign the paper.

Brandishing the signed paper the next day, we stand in line for another 20 minutes at the window, and attempt again to officially enroll in the class.

"There's a prerequisite."

We produce the paper with the placement test results. The gatekeeper stares at it.

"Where did you get this?"

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"From the room directly behind this one on the other side of the building. Don't you have this information in your computer?"

"No. And I can't override this. You'll have to go into the offices in the back here; I'll buzz you in."

We walk past a young man who is being advised by one of the other bureaucrats in fluent Armenian, enter the back office, and meet someone with the correct password.

Now, officially enrolled in the class, we attempt to pay our tuition.

"That will be $548," says the pleasant lady in the business office.
How is this possible when we are only taking 3 units at the community college? Tuition and fees should be less than $100.

"It has you listed as an out-of-state resident. Did you register?"

Yes, online.

"Oh, well, that's why. When you register online, it automatically categorizes you as a nonresident."

We return to the window again and wait for only 10 minutes this time to learn that we need to produce proof that we have lived in California for more than a year. As we don't have such proof on us, this involves returning the next week and waiting another 20 minutes at the same window, then returning to the business office to pay. Finally, we are officially enrolled in the class at the appropriate tuition for someone who has lived in California for years.

How's the class? Pretty good. Useful and well-taught.

In fact, all of the bureaucrats, though it took a while to meet with them and then not get immediate results, were polite and friendly. Our major beef is that systems that are supposed to be designed for efficiency don't completely work. We can understand the need to produce proof of residency; but the Web site could have told us this initially, rather than requiring waits in line at two different windows to find it out. We should have been able to sign up by phone to take the placement test. Also, our placement test score was entered in a computer somewhere, which should have been connected to the computers in the registrar's office so its staffer would be able to enroll us in the class. The number of times we had to return to the school for administrative reasons rather than to learn any actual math do not add up to a simple and pleasant experience, and we are certainly not the only community college student who is reliant on public transportation or who has other priorities than standing in line on campus for 20 minutes at a time.

Essentially, these seemed like people doing their best, given bureaucratic twists and limited systems. They have people who can help if your English is limited, and, (even though this was a pain for us) they have a system to keep you from getting in over your head in a class you can't handle. Also, we could have made things easier by registering earlier and perhaps by working with an admissions counselor, although this did not think this necessary for a single class. While we understand that the proposed cuts in community college funding are due in part to fluctuations in the state economy (this situation desrves its own rant), we hope that the state could at least have the courtesy to be as helpful to the community college system as the beleaguered college staff were with us in guiding us through an annoying system.