LOS ANGELES (CBS) — As a mounting budget crisis threatens to cripple California state colleges and universities, the floundering state of local community colleges has gone largely unnoticed.

Two of California’s largest community college systems in Los Angeles and Riverside both face distinct but not unrelated challenges, each threatening to permanently alter the way students look at an undertaking that’s often considered an academic back-up plan.

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A six-part series set to debut this Sunday in the Los Angeles Times alleges that tens of millions of taxpayer dollars have gone to waste in the rebuilding of Southland community colleges.

Despite receiving $6 billion in state bonds for overdue repairs and construction, the L.A. college district doesn’t have a whole lot to show for it, according to Times reporter Michael Finnegan.

Finnegan tells KNX 1070 about one example of shoddy workmanship at a new science center at at Valley College in Valley Glen.

But if the students in L.A. are going for broke, some of those attending community colleges in Riverside are set to begin studying for a semester in the People’s Republic of China — a first for any community college in California.

Eighteen RCC students, whose ages range from 18 to 30, departed Thursday for the 12-hour journey to the Far East.

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According to college officials, the students are paying $6,400 for an 11-week session, with course work focused on geopolitics, ethics, comparative government and beginning Mandarin language classes.

“Many community colleges leave the study-abroad programs to four-year universities,” said RCC sociology professor Jan Schall, who is coordinating the trip. “Institutions that offer study abroad often concentrate on European destinations,” Schall said. “At Riverside, we’ve always pushed those boundaries.”

RCC’s International Education program has previously provided students overseas study opportunities in England, France, Hungary, Japan and Spain.

RCC Chancellor Gregory Gray said the China trip is another example of the college district adapting its study abroad efforts to keep up with the times.

“Innovative programs like this one offer our students opportunities and competitive advantages that can make a huge difference in their lives,” he said.

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