By Charles Feldman
KNX 1070 Investigative Reporter

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — First-generation American Miquel Alejandre, a freshman at California State University, Los Angeles, discovered in high school what would be helpful for other students to learn: how to work the system to his advantage.

Alejandre sought out and found one of the many organizations available for free that helped pave the way for him even before he stepped foot onto the university campus.

“They helped me get a lot of classes ahead of time,” Alejandre tells KNX 1070.

Students and university officials alike say that there is much students can — and should — do to help ease their way through the budget challenged higher education system in the state.

As many as 400,000 students may find it difficult, if not impossible, to enroll in community college courses this fall if Governor Jerry Brown has to impose an “all cuts” budget that would translate into bigger cutbacks for higher education than have already been instituted.

Getting requisite classes at four year state universities could also become much more daunting, education officials say.

At the community college level — often seen as a gateway to a four-year state university — a new Associate Degree for Transfer program is slated to go into effect on most campuses in September, says Jack Scott, Chancellor for the California Community College system, whose 112 two-year colleges serving 2.75 million students in the state makes it the largest system of higher education in the nation.

The new transfer degree , with a unified curriculum, Scott maintains, should help students graduate after four years, instead of the five or even six years that an increasing number of students are now taking to finish their undergraduate, college education.

Scott says that if students find themselves closed out of needed courses their first year in community college, they can try and enroll in courses across two or even three different campuses.

Even taking just one course is important, says Scott, because , when the next semester comes around, previously enrolled students are considered “returning students” and get “first priority” when it comes time for registration.

Even at the four year university level, students can often fill in their course schedule by shopping around for courses offered at nearby community colleges, so long as they make sure the course credit is fully transferable to the four year institution, several education officials say.

Tony Ross, Vice-President for Student Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles, says he encourages students to “get names, phone numbers and a way to follow-up,” with those who promise them easy transfer credits, to avoid any misunderstandings later on.

“There’s a lot they (students) can do to help themselves,” says Patrick Lenz, Vice-President for Budget at the University of California.

And, even with budget cutbacks and tuition hikes, there are many financial programs available to help students , says Robert Turnage, Assistant Vice-Chancellor for Budget for the California State University System.

“About half of our undergraduate students,” Turnage says, have their tuition completely covered by grants.

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