In California, 140,000 potential students were shut out of community colleges in 2009 due to budget cuts, The Washington Post reported Saturday. Similarly, New York state started a waiting list in May, as community colleges became full.
The classic salt-in-the-wound economic reality is that when unemployment rises tax revenues go down just when the demand for services increases.
"It's a personal tragedy for someone seeking the skills to become a nurse or a firefighter or whatever it may be," said Jack Scott, chancellor of California Community Colleges.
"In the long run, it's a tragedy for the economy," he said.
"Unfortunately, many say the heck with it and walk away," said Michael Richards, president of the College of Southern Nevada.
The college exemplifies the frustration for some during the economic downturn.
It turned away 5,000 students in the fall. For one introductory biology class that is a prerequisite for several healthcare degrees, 2,450 students signed up for 950 available slots.
"In Nevada, we have to accommodate state budget priorities such as Medicare, public safety, including corrections, and K-12 education. Higher education comes in fourth or fifth in the list," Richards said.