For student Anthony Castro, a beginning photography class at Long Beach City College was the gateway to education.
"I was a high school dropout and didn't know if I could handle going back to school," he said. "I decided to take one photography class to see how I liked it, and I turned out to be pretty good at it. I went on to take math and English classes and now I'm on the dean's list."
Holding signs that read, "I vote keep the photography department" and "Save Photography Save the Arts," more than 200 students and faculty members, mostly from the college's photography program, flooded the LBCC Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday in protest of a plan to eliminate or reduce more than a dozen programs.
College administrators are considering cutting up to 17 programs in the 2013-2014 year for a savings of $2 million. The cuts could include layoffs of about 10 full-time faculty.
The college currently has about 200 academic programs and 308 full-time faculty.
Programs on the chopping block include: Air conditioning, auto mechanics, auto body, aviation maintenance, carpentry, Computer Proficiency for Academic Success, Diagnostic Medical Imaging, diesel mechanics, film, human services (drug and alcohol counseling), interior design, medical assisting, photography,
Lynn Shaw, president of LBCC's faculty union, said the proposed cuts are shocking.
"It's a devastating blow to full-time faculty and a devastating blow to the community," she said. "The community needs more than just a college that offers only math and English. The arts and trade programs are a vital part of our college."
LBCC spokesman Robert Garcia said the programs could be eliminated, reduced or consolidated depending on staff recommendations.
An academic council of administrators and faculty will meet in November to discuss the cuts and make recommendations, he said. The list will not be finalized for several months. Trustees could vote on layoffs as early as January, once the list becomes finalized.
The college of more than 26,000 students has seen an overall 7.4 percent reduction in state funding in recent years and is now facing one its toughest financial times in history. In April, trustees approved a plan to lay off 55 employees and reduce contracts for 96 positions for a savings of more than $5 million.
LBCC administrators are planning for even tougher cuts if voters fail to pass Gov. Jerry Brown's November tax initiative. If the tax initiative fails, the college would be forced to cut up to $8.4 million from its $96 million general fund.
For now, college administrators are focusing on mostly low-demand career technical programs for possible reductions.
Officials said cuts to low-demand programs will help the college focus resources on the core courses needed for transfer and graduation, such as English, math and science.
Faculty and students on Tuesday said they were disappointed to hear that the popular photography program was slated to be reduced or eliminated. Several speakers before the board urged the college to reconsider cuts to the arts and other programs that have played vital roles in students' lives.
Steve Johnson, a 69-year-old Long Beach resident, said he decided to enroll in LBCC's photography program 10 years ago after making a midlife career change. Johnson is now earning his master's degree in fine arts at Cal State Fullerton.
"The photography program helped me find a new course in life and I know it's helped so many other students," he said. "I hope they can find some way to save it."