Tag Archives: Student Success Task Force

CA millions of degrees short

Business and civic leaders weighed in on the condition of California’s university and college systems with an urgent warning that without a significant increase in graduation rates, the state will lose its prominence as an economic contender.

A new report released Thursday by the California Competes Council found that the state needs 5 ½ million new college degrees and technical certificates by the year 2025. But, without major changes, California will fall 2.3 million short.

(Source:  California Competes and U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey).  Click to enlarge.

(Source: California Competes and U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey). Click to enlarge.

“We need to provide our young people with the tools, not only to live a good life and be good participants in our state, but to also fuel our economic engine,” said Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, chair of the Council, during a conference call with reporters.

The Council’s report, entitled The Road Ahead: Higher education, California’s promise, and our future economy, is the third in a confluence of reports focusing on improving success at the state’s community colleges this year, this time from the perspective of business and civic leaders. In January, the Community College Board of Governors approved a package of 22 recommendations developed after a year of meetings and public hearings by the Student Success Task Force.

A month later, the Little Hoover Commission, the state watchdog agency, released its recommendations for community colleges in Serving Students, Serving California.

All three reports share some ideas. They would give more independence to the Chancellor’s office, provide more support for new students, and call for greater accountability. The Council states up front that it supports the recommendations of the other two groups, but goes on to say that they “do not go far enough in addressing the lack of accountability in the system caused by dysfunctional governance.”

They call their report a blueprint for the governor and State Legislature and lay out steps the state must take “to restore California to national and international prominence as a producer of high-quality college graduates.”

More and better quality degrees

Producing 5.5 million new graduates by 2025 means increasing the number of degrees and certificates by a little over 4 percent a year. The Council says this could be accomplished by better research into the types of jobs and qualifications needed to fill them in different regions of the state. The report notes that “there are increasing numbers of good jobs across a range of industries that demand skills gained in credential programs of less than four years,” and that “the state should identify majors that are a priority.”

Community colleges are a key strategy in meeting the demand. With about 2.6 million students, they are the largest higher education system in the nation, but rank second to last in completion rates, according to the report. That combination makes community colleges the low-hanging fruit, as it were.

“Improving attainment rates for transfer, degrees, and certificates at community colleges could address a third to half of the 2.3 million graduate gap,” write the Council members.

The authors also caution against losing sight of quality. Doing things on the cheap, such as increasing class sizes, could backfire by producing graduates without the analytical and critical thinking skills they’ll need to be successful.

Create a Higher Education Investment Board

Remember CPEC, the California Postsecondary Education Commission? It didn’t work out so well and Gov. Brown disbanded it last year. The Higher Education Investment Board would be CPEC with teeth.

It wouldn’t be a governance body, said Robert Shireman, director of California Competes. Like CPEC, it would collect information and data from campuses about the number of degrees granted from each campus, how much it costs to educate students for different degrees, and what the workforce needs are for different regions of the state, and use that information to advise the governor and Legislature on policy.

Unlike CPEC, the Board would have authority to compel each campus to respond to its requests for data because it would also have control of student financial aid, like Cal Grants.

“Campuses did not have any incentive to respond to requests of CPEC because there weren’t any consequences,” said Shireman. “The scholarship program is a hook into institutions that they need to be responsive.

Streamline governance

“The statewide Board of Governors should amend its regulations to restore clear accountability to local boards of trustees and to the administrators who report to them.” – California Competes.

In a significant shift from the other two reports, the Council proposed reconfiguring the management structure of community colleges to give local Boards of Trustees more power over policy.

Currently, under AB 1725, passed in 1988, local community college districts must ensure that faculty, staff, and students are allowed to participate in governance. Two years later, the Board of Governors went further with regulations that call for “mutual agreement” between the local trustees and faculty senates on issues pertaining to curriculum and academic standards.

The Council, while acknowledging that faculty input is important, said that by giving academic senates equal authority, it’s nearly impossible to reach any agreements.

“We really debated on the governance question and came away with the feeling that the accountability structure of community colleges really needed to be strengthened in order to move forward and address this gap in degrees and certificates,” said California’s former legislative analyst and council member Elizabeth Hill.

As far as the statewide academic senate is concerned, the Council based that recommendation on a blatantly mistaken understanding of the regulation. “My jaw dropped when I read that section of the report,” said Michelle Pilati, president of the statewide Academic Senate and a professor at Rio Hondo College.   “It’s disappointing to see that the authors of the report did not adequately check their facts.” Except for the changes implemented by the Board of Governors in 1990, Pilati said local trustees can opt to reach a mutual agreement with their faculty senates, but are under no obligation to do so.

Members of the student senate took issue with the portrayal of faculty as the obstacle to change and cautioned against using divisive language. “It’s a mischaracterization and in line with all the other demonization of teachers that we’re seeing in K-12,” said Rich Copenhagen, a student senator from the College of Alameda. “Unfortunately I think this report falls into that, and I don’t think that’s a very healthy way of dealing with our problems.”

The Community College Chancellor’s office said it supports any effort to improve completion rates, but was noncommittal on the report’s recommendations and instead directed attention to the Student Success Task Force. Some key proposals from the task force are already making their way through the State Legislature in SB 1456, the Student Success Act of 2012.

Bill me: Legislative week in review

John Fensterwald co-wrote this article.

One day after Democrats on the Senate Education Committee rejected his sweeping approach to getting rid of poorly performing and badly behaving teachers, Republican leader Bob Huff mentioned an often cited but much disputed quote of the late Albert Shanker in letting the Democrats have it.

“The Senate Education Committee’s actions exemplify the comments made by Albert Shanker, former head of the United Federation of Teachers, who stated, ‘When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.’ Once again the Democrats on the committee have chosen to put the demands of some union bosses over the safety of our children,” Huff said in a press release. (Shanker’s wife, Edith, denies he ever made the statement.) UPDATE: I contacted Shaker’s biographer,  Richard Kahlenberg, who wrote Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy.  His email response regarding the authenticity of the quote: “I tried to track down the quotation for my biography of Al Shanker but I was unable to confirm it, so it may well be apocryphal.”

Democrats passed a much narrower bill, SB 1530, that pared away the due-process procedures for teachers being charged with offenses involving drugs, sex, and violence against children. Not that they got much love from union reps, who accused legislators from both parties of “grandstanding” on the issue.

Huff issued a chart showing that the Democrats’ bill wouldn’t alter the sometimes laborious dismissal procedures for teachers accused of a raft of other vile offenses that don’t fall into the new category of “serious and egregious” acts.

The odd thing is that, after the Democrats gutted an identical version of Huff’s bill in the Assembly this week, leaving in only two small reforms, the Republican co-sponsor of AB 2028 waxed poetic on the bipartisan achievement in a press release. “It was great to see Assembly Democrats today set politics aside and work with us to pass these vital reforms to get those who try to harm our kids out of the classroom,” said Assemblymember Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita.

Not wanting to get caught in this dogfight, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy testified for both the Republican and Democratic versions.

Stepping up to community college plate

“I am a community college success story,” proudly proclaimed Jessie Ryan at a news conference Wednesday after the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved the Student Success Act. SB 1456 starts the process of implementing some of the 22 recommendations in the Student Success Task Force report, which was released late last year.

Ryan, the associate director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, grew up with a “struggling, single welfare mother,” and said community college was truly her “gateway to opportunity.”  She was admittedly fortunate that her college helped her develop an education plan and held an orientation that put Ryan “on a path to success.”

Sen. Lowenthal, with community college leaders and students, announcing passage of SB 1456. (Click to enlarge)

Sen. Lowenthal, with community college leaders and students, announcing passage of SB 1456. (Click to enlarge)

SB 1456, by Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), chair of the Education Committee, calls on all the state’s 112 community colleges to provide all students with the type of support Ryan received. More than half of all community college students fail to receive an AA Degree, earn a certificate, or transfer to a four-year college within six years, and the figures for Latino and African American students are even worse.

But the big drivers in the bill for boosting success were tempered amid an outcry from students and the reality of state finances.  Provisions requiring students to declare a goal and not to exceed a certain number of units in order to be eligible for Board of Governors (BOG) fee waivers will not take effect unless colleges have the resources to provide the needed support services, said Lowenthal.  Just looking at one of those, counseling services is daunting.  On average, there are 1900 students for each counselor.

The bill would create a new fund which repurposes the $50 million in the matriculation fund to provide colleges with some money to focus on education planning and advising, but it’s not nearly enough, and the chancellor’s office said they’re looking to schools to develop innovative programs to help students make good decisions about which classes to take.

“These reforms are about doing the most we can with what we have,” said Erik Skinner, Executive Vice Chancellor of programs.  “The next step is to make the case for more investment.”

Bus Stop

Gov. Brown’s effort to eliminate funding for home-to-school transportation at the time of the mid-year trigger cuts sparked legislation by Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-Gardena) to introduce legislation protecting school bus service.

AB 1448 requires transportation funding for next year to be “at least equal to the appropriation provided in the budget for 2011-12.”   The bill holds a special place for Los Angeles Unified, which, under a court-ordered desegregation plan must provide transportation.

Budget uncertainty marked many bills that came before the committees this week leading to one surprisingly stinging exchange between two lawmakers.  During the debate on AB 1448, Assemblymember Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), asked fellow education committee member Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara) why the democrats were trying to protect the school transportation funds when they were the ones who supported putting it in the trigger cuts when they approved the governor’s budget plan last year.  Williams retorted almost before she could finish, noting that republicans forced their hand.  “With all due respect,” said Williams, “that wouldn’t have happened if you had the courage to vote for taxes to support our education system.”

Click here for a list of education bills and their status

No love for Gov’s comm. college plans

Two months after the release of the budget trailer bill, the Department of Finance yesterday was unable to provide specific details on Governor Brown’s sweeping proposal to change the way community colleges are funded.

At a hearing before the Senate’s budget subcommittee on education, community college officials also questioned the reasoning behind that proposal and others that were considered and rejected following a yearlong review by the Student Success Task Force on community colleges.

The governor has recommended eliminating the current model, which funds community colleges based on how many full-time equivalent students (FTES) are enrolled, and replacing it with a system built around how successful colleges are at meeting performance standards. Schools would receive a 4 percent annual increase in their base budget for reaching those goals.

But at Monday’s hearing, finance officials couldn’t say what the standards are or how they’ll be measured. “We don’t have those metrics,” Juliana Morozumi told the panel. When pressed for some examples by Senator Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood), she indicated that successful outcome would probably include degree completion and transfer rates.

In an uneasy exchange, Wright suggested that some colleges could be penalized under this system for having a large number of students who just take a couple of classes they need to improve their job skills.  “That’s why I said we’re still working on it,” answered Morozumi.

The Legislative Analyst’s office and community college officials gave the governor a verbal pat on the back for raising the issue of accountability, but doubted this plan would fly. For starters, it would be a hard sell to legislators because it removes much of their authority for allocating resources to community colleges. It also leaves little time to develop what would probably be controversial accountability criteria and measurements by the time the final budget is approved. Additionally, the Student Success Task Force took a strong stand against performance-based funding.

“I appreciate the governor’s interest in reform and I’m hopeful he will buy into the reforms that we have suggested in the Student Success Task Force,” Chancellor Jack Scott said during a phone call last night. “To suddenly change the whole system to outcomes I think is frankly improbable.”

Sample student success scorecard (source:  Student Success Task Force report) Click to enlarge

Sample student success scorecard (source: Student Success Task Force report) Click to enlarge

The Chancellor’s office already has a working group developing metrics for student success scorecards recommended by the task force to promote better accountability and transparency.

Budget is bigger priority

Most people at the hearing saw the discussion of how to fund community colleges as something of a distraction compared with the issue of how much funding the schools will receive.

In the past three years, community colleges have lost about $1 billion (not including de facto cuts from no statutory COLA increases), and there’s a chance that will go even higher before the current school year is out.  Already in 2011-12, community colleges have taken more than half-a-million in reductions.

  • $400 million reduction in general fund apportionments
  • $102 million in mid-year trigger cuts
  • $149 million “February surprise” from lower than expected property taxes and student fee revenues (despite an increase in fees from $26 to $36 per unit)

There’s also a chance they’ll have to eat another $146 million this year if revenue from the dissolution of county redevelopment agencies is lower than the Administration’s estimate.

“I think this represents a very very major challenge for our districts and it’s possible that some would not be able to make it,” said Community College Vice Chancellor of Finance Dan Troy.

Colleges are hoping that Gov. Brown will give some indication of what the rest of this year looks like financially when he releases the May revise budget in about a month.

Next year is a white-knuckle unknown.  If the Governor’s tax initiative passes, $218 million will go toward paying down the community college deferral.  If it fails, the deferral stays and the colleges absorb an additional $30 million in programmatic cuts and, most likely, another mid-year trigger cut.

Enrollment has fallen by 400,000 since the cuts began. (Source:  Community College Chancellor's office). Click to enlarge.

Enrollment has fallen by 400,000 since the cuts began. (Source: Community College Chancellor's office). Click to enlarge.

At a time when more people need postsecondary education to be prepared for the increasingly skilled requirements of decent-paying jobs, these reductions are having the opposite effect.  Community Colleges have lost 400,000 students in four years, falling from a high of 2.8 million to 2.4 million today.

Students are being turned away at Ohlone College in Fremont, the chair of the Board of Trustees told the subcommittee.  “The demand has grown over 44 percent in 15 years, said Greg Bonaccorsi.  But funding cuts forced the school to scale back courses and now “students are being turned away,” said Bonaccorsi.   “It violates the tenet of public education.”

Should California community colleges prioritize enrollment to help students graduate earlier?

By the end of this week, the Student Success Act of 2012 should be officially introduced in the Legislature, launching the debate on how to improve success rates at California’s community colleges.  The Act is necessary to implement some of the 22 recommendations of the Student Success Task Force, which spent the last year developing the proposals and soliciting feedback at dozens of public hearings across the state.

California’s community colleges enroll about 2.6 million students at 112 campuses and have a broad mission. But the completion rates for students seeking associate degrees, certificates, and transfer credits is disappointing. Less than 54 percent of degree-seeking students ever reach their goals, and the rates are much lower for African American and Latino students, and the vast majority of students who have to complete basic skills courses.

Although the Community College Board of Governors approved the task force recommendations, some of the proposals remain divisive, particularly the plans that give priority enrollment to students who move more quickly through community college and, conversely, push the other students to the end of the line.

We have four commentaries on this issue from people who have been closely involved in the process over the last year. Community College Board of Governors member Peter MacDougall served as chair of the Student Success Task Force. Michelle Pilati gave testimony at many of the hearings as president of the California Community Colleges Academic Senate, as did Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, and Emily Kinner, the president of the California Community College Association of Student Trustees. We welcome your thoughts on the issue.

Peter MacDougall: New enrollment priorities necessary and fair

Peter MacDougall

Peter MacDougall

The question that is posed is one that the Student Success Task Force studied in great detail as it developed recommendations designed to help California community college students succeed and achieve their educational goals on time.

It used to be that community colleges could serve almost anyone who wanted to enroll in a wide offering of courses – whether the goal was to get a degree or certificate, transfer to a four-year institution, or take enrichment courses. However, severe budget cuts have substantially reduced the number of courses colleges can offer. Yet enrollment policies remain in place throughout much of the system that allow hobbyists and students who have accumulated large numbers of units to register ahead of first-time students seeking certificates, associate degrees in career and technical fields, and transfer preparation.

This is not acceptable; hundreds of thousands of first-time students, recent graduates of California’s high schools, have been turned away because they could not register for a single course.

The task force, recognizing that financial constraints have forced colleges to limit their educational offerings, concluded that a new set of priorities is needed to guide enrollment. The proposed policies will give priority to students seeking courses that address the core mission of our colleges: career technical education, completing lower division transfer requirements, and basic skills and English as a second language. These students will also be expected to take a diagnostic assessment, participate in orientation, and develop an education plan.

All students will need to identify a program of study within three semesters or they will lose their registration priority. In addition, students who accumulate more than 100 units, not including English as a second language and basic skills courses, would lose their enrollment priority.

Research shows that students who develop an education plan and identify a course of study early in their academic careers are more likely to succeed. Students, of course, will be able to change their course of study should their interests and goals change.

Given the substantial increase in the expense of pursuing both a four-year degree and career and technical training programs, it is imperative that California ensure low-cost access to the high-quality educational opportunities provided by our community colleges.

Altering enrollment prioritization is an efficient way of encouraging successful student behaviors and ensuring that we intelligently ration classes. While these policy proposals may have been born at a time of financial crisis in our colleges, they are fair and sensible reforms that should be made regardless of budget considerations.

Peter MacDougall, Ph.D., is chair of the California Community Colleges Student Success Task Force and is a member of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors. He served as superintendent and president of the Santa Barbara Community College District from 1981 to 2002. Prior to that, Dr. MacDougall served as dean of students at Los Angeles Pierce College and director of educational services for the Los Angeles Community College District. From 1968 to 1975, he was associate dean of students and a professor of counseling psychology in the graduate school of education at Rutgers State University of New Jersey.

Michelle L. Pilati: Deciding who’s worthy conflicts with mission

Michelle Pilati

Michelle Pilati

Prioritization is not a simple “do we do it or not” option; it is a multidimensional tool that can be used in effective and ineffective ways. The notion of using prioritization as a means to “enable students to graduate earlier” is simplistic at its best and fundamentally flawed at its worst. In addition to the implication that “graduation” (i.e., degree completion) is our only mission, the factors that lead students to take “too long” are complex and, often, institutional. Unit accumulation need not reflect a student “wandering” or engaging in avocational pursuits. Students may accumulate “excess” units as they strive to identify their goals, enroll in classes that do not apply towards their goal due to an inability to get into needed classes, or find a particular faculty member is so engaging that they want to learn more from him or her.

Putting aside the idea that proper prioritization will force students to establish a goal and stick with it (college grads out there – how many times did you change your major?), could we use prioritization as a means of helping students to attain their goals? Of course we could, but how do we go about this in an equitable way? Who is more “worthy”: a veteran, a new student, a student with two classes left to complete a transfer degree, a student with four classes left to complete a certificate in automotive technology, or a new immigrant who wishes to learn English? While the focus of conversation about this topic has often been about who should not have priority, no one has considered the universe of students who have worthy educational needs but have goals that may not be consistent with the quantitative definitions of success that we are compelled to work with.

Ideally, students would have priority access to the courses that are consistent with their goals; the student who needs a given class in order to graduate would trump the one who is taking it for pleasure, and the English-language learner would have priority for those classes to help her attain her goal. The conversation about prioritization has yet to really begin.

Michelle L. Pilati, Ph.D., is the president of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) and a professor of psychology at Rio Hondo College, where she has been full-time faculty since 1999, and served as Distance Education Coordinator and Curriculum Chair. At the national level she has pursued her interest in online education, serving as an editor for MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) and  co-editor of the MERLOT peer-reviewed journal, JOLT. Prior to her current position, she served as a visiting professor at UC Irvine, conducted postdoctoral research at UCLA’s Drug Abuse Research Center, and worked as an academic counselor in UCLA’s Department of Psychology. She completed her doctorate in psychology at UCLA.

Michele Siqueiros: Prioritizing fulfills promise of college opportunity

Michele Siqueiros

Michele Siqueiros

Students are taking longer and longer to graduate from community college, and that’s due to several factors, including devastating budget cuts that forced the system to eliminate thousands of courses and turn away an estimated 200,000 students last fall. For those who do get in, researchers in our 2010 Divided We Fail report found that after six years, only three in ten degree-seeking students obtained a vocational certificate, earned an associate degree, or transferred to a four-year university.

We must continue to demand adequate funding for higher education, but we can also be smarter with the resources available. Prioritizing course offerings is one way to do that. There are daily stories about community college students unable to get the classes they need for their major or program. In a year when more than 20,000 course sections were cut – including basic skills, transfer-level English and math, career pathway courses, and ESL – the following were still available: Playing the Ukulele for Older Adults; Ceramics: An Option for Friday Night; Latin for Lifelong Learners; Reminiscing; Reclaiming Joy: Meeting Your Inner Child; and Finding Buried Treasure: Organizing Your Clutter. You get the picture.

California no longer has the resources to subsidize students attending community college for recreational purposes. Prioritizing enrollment for students with a goal and a plan to complete it is smart. They will finish community college faster, freeing up spaces for the next class of high school graduates who can’t find a spot at a UC or Cal State campus, can’t afford the higher fees, or simply prefer the preparation, flexibility, and location of their local community college.

Under the current system, some students are forced to enroll in courses they do not need in order to keep their financial aid and/or their unit count high because the system rewards the accumulation of units with registration priority instead of prioritizing students who are trying to transfer, get a degree, or earn a vocational certificate.

The community college system has an opportunity to reengineer itself with the recent Student Success Task Force recommendations. The recommendations include prioritized enrollment and aligning course offerings. They move us toward  a core value many of us believe: that the promise of college opportunity is fulfilled only if students are successful at getting through college. Prioritizing our enrollment and course offerings is one way to start students off right and prepare them to cross the finish line.

Michele Siqueiros is the executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonprofit organization that works to expand access and success in higher education for California students by promoting policy solutions with the support of a broad-based, bipartisan statewide coalition. She was recently appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to the California Student Aid Commission. She is a board member of the Institute for Higher Education Policy and the Alliance for a Better Community and serves on the core planning team for the Latino Student Success initiative led by Long Beach City College.

Emily Kinner: Plan could force out neediest students

Emily Kinner

Emily Kinner

The Student Success Act currently being drafted is of deep concern for many community college students. The legislation is modeled on the Student Success Task Force recommendations recently approved by the California Community Colleges Board of Governors.

While we believe many of the recommendations would bring positive changes, the California Community College Association of Student Trustees (CCCAST) has voted to oppose this package because, contrary to its stated focus on improving student success, we believe it will have the unintended consequence of pushing out students who are less likely to succeed, therefore superficially improving the success statistics of our system.

The proposed changes to the Board of Governors’ fee waivers are one example. In order to continue to qualify for a waiver, students would have to identify a degree, certificate, transfer, or career advancement goal; meet institutional satisfactory progress standards; and have no more than 110 units, not including basic skills and ESL courses. This could make community college unaffordable for our most underserved students, who may take longer to get through college because they have to take time out from school to work in order to support their families. These students end up taking classes they don’t need in order to keep their financial aid, but could wind up with more than 110 units as a result. Without the fee waivers, we are concerned that many of these students will drop out for good. At a recent hearing of the Joint Committee on Higher Education in Sacramento, Assemblymember Marty Block, a Democrat from San Diego, called the recommendation the “death penalty” for some of our neediest students.

During this time of fiscal crisis, with the toll it has taken on public education in the state of California, we appreciate the need for a reevaluation of how to better serve California Community College students. We also understand that there are greater problems with our government’s fiscal structures that can’t be addressed within the context of the Student Success Task Force.

We respect the efforts and dedication of the task force members during their yearlong deliberations regarding student success, as well as their attempts to remedy the fiscal problems of our community college system. We appreciate that our voices have been heard and have helped in the more positive changes since the first drafts. However, we feel more time is needed to consider proposals in order to make sure we protect our most vulnerable populations because, ultimately, student success will be achieved only when the goal is student access.

Emily Kinner serves as student trustee for the Foothill-De Anza Community College District and president of the California Community College Association of Student Trustees (CCCAST). She is a Rappaport intern at the De Anza Institute for Community and Civic Engagement. Since 2011, she has led the De Anza EcoPass Campaign for affordable transportation and served as coalitions coordinator for the “No on PROP 23″ CALPIRG campaign. She is currently an organizer for the “Occupy for Education at De Anza” project, advocating for access, equity, and affordability in the California community college system.

LAO nixes Gov’s community college budget

Gov. Brown missed a chance to save millions for community colleges by reining in Board of Governors fee waivers, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. The LAO released its review of Brown’s 2012-13 higher education budget plan yesterday, and raised red flags on that program and on the governor’s proposals to make major changes in the way community colleges are funded, as well as big changes in categorical programs.

The report instead supports many of the recommendations in the recently released Student Success Task Force report, which was produced at the request of the Legislature.

“Enacting these changes would help the state better target resources toward CCC’s core missions, as well as create a strong incentive for students to achieve their educational goals within a reasonable time period. We thus recommend the Legislature enact these proposals,” wrote the LAO in its report.

The LAO’s analysis gave a fair amount of ink to the Board of Governors fee waivers, which have been increasing so rapidly that 70 percent of students may get a free ride next year. Already, the waivers have eaten into nearly the entire $110 million that community colleges were supposed to raise this academic year by raising fees from $26 to $36 per unit.

BOG fee waiver trends (Source: Leg. Analyst) click to enlarge.

BOG fee waiver trends (Source: Leg. Analyst) click to enlarge.

“A large financial aid program the governor does not address is that of the Board of Governors fee waiver program at the community colleges,” said the LAO’s managing principal analyst Steve Boilard in taped comments accompanying the report. “What we suggest are ways to rein in the costs of this program and to better leverage the program to increase student access.”

As the LAO notes, the Student Success Task Force has recommended just that. It calls for a higher threshold for aid – currently students have to show just $1 of need to qualify – and for requiring students to show progress toward their degree or transfer plan in order to continue receiving waivers.

Revamping funding system

To the relief of the Community College Chancellor’s Office, the LAO calls for a flat-out rejection of the governor’s proposal to change the way community colleges are funded. Dan Troy, the Vice Chancellor of Finance, said Gov. Brown wants to scrap the system of funding community colleges based on FTES, or full-time equivalent students, and replace it with something not fully developed.

For the 2012-13 school year, colleges would receive the same amount of funding they get this year, unless the Chancellor’s office comes up with an alternative methodology for allocating the money. “Changing a major $6 billion system of finance could have some unintended consequences,” said Troy. “I would suggest that if the governor wants to entertain changes or give more flexibility, we’re willing to engage in some discussion about it in a more deliberate manner.”

There’s little agreement among the Governor, the LAO or the Chancellor’s office when it comes to the proposal to consolidate funding for all 21 categorical programs into a single flex item.  Gov. Brown’s budget plan would also eliminate many of the community college mandates and give districts a lot of discretion on how they spend the money – nearly $400 million this year.  A few mandates would remain, including funding for the Foster Parent Education Program.

The LAO gives the plan a mixed review in its report:  “We agree that districts would benefit from more categorical flexibility. We have concerns, however, that the Governor’s approach could result in local decisions that undermine the Legislature’s original intent for these funds.”

The Student Success Task Force also expressed concerns about the bureaucratic inefficiency of requiring local campuses to manage nearly two dozen separate programs.  But the panel isn’t ready to propose a sweeping consolidation.  Instead, it calls on the legislature to streamline reporting requirements for the programs, and urges the colleges to “break down programmatic silos and voluntarily collaborate in an effort to improve the success of students.”

Dan Troy said the Chancellor’s office isn’t about to support any proposals that differ  from the Student Success Task Force proposals.  “We have a well vetted plan there,” he said, “and wouldn’t want to deviate from that.”

Big change for community colleges

The California Community Colleges Board of Governors approved far-reaching recommendations Monday to increase graduation and transfer rates, including rationing access to classes.

The vote on the Student Success Task Force proposals followed more than three hours of emotional public comments, occasionally veering into angry outbursts that prompted the Board president to warn he’d call off the remainder of the public testimony.

“I was hoping for a civil discussion,” said Board president Scott Himelstein, who nonetheless said it was good for the Board members to hear the strong opinions about the recommendations.

The most controversial elements in the package of 22 reforms provide carrots and sticks to encourage students to enroll full time and stay on track toward earning associate degrees, earning certificates, or transferring to four-year colleges and universities.

Those students would get priority enrollment, along with first-time students who take part in college orientation, undergo college-readiness assessments, and develop education plans; and students who start taking any remedial classes they need during their first year.

The recommendations also set conditions for students to receive Board of Governors fee waivers, including excluding students who have more than 110 units – nearly twice as many as needed for a degree or transfer – with no completion goal in sight.

Dozens of community college students in the packed hearing room in the State Capitol argued that those restrictions would have the opposite of their intended effect and drive away the poorest students, who can take only one or two classes a semester because they have families to support and need to work.

Students also questioned the Task Force’s definition of success, arguing that just being in community college is a triumph for some people.

“My story is the exact opposite of the definition of success within the document you’ve been presented with,” said Joseph Fitzgerald, a 25-year-old student at City College of San Francisco. After a series of family tragedies, Fitzgerald said he had to learn to fend for himself by the time he was ten years old. When he finally enrolled at City College, he had never learned how to do homework, study, or manage his time.

“The fact that I could take these classes and not be punished in terms of fee waivers or financial aid, and being able to fail was vital to me becoming a mature adult,” said Fitzgerald. “Being able to stray from my educational plan, and not be on a strict plan that kept me on one track, allowed me to take a number of classes that helped me find my passion.”

Legislative mandate

The Task Force was created last January through Senate Bill 1143, authored by State Senator Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge), after several reports found dismal completion rates at the state’s community colleges.

Currently, only about 30 percent of students complete an associate degree or a certificate, or transfer to a four-year college or university within six years, according to Divided We Fail, a 2010 report by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Sacramento State University. The numbers are even lower for Latinos and African American students: 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

Jeannette Zanipatin, legislative staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), told Board members such low levels of student success require “transformative change” throughout the community college system, even if the resources aren’t immediately available.

“MALDEF understands that these are challenging times for the community college system and its students,” said Zanipatin, “but educational attainment by the students enrolled in the system must be improved, and racial and ethnic disparities among students must be eliminated.”

Implementation is key

Monday’s action may have marked the end of the Student Success Task Force, but it signaled the beginning of a more difficult phase in the process: implementation of the recommendations.

Likely state agency required to approve implementation of Student Success Task Force recommendations. (source:  Board of Governors).  Click to enlarge.

Likely state agency required to approve implementation of Student Success Task Force recommendations. (source: Board of Governors). Click to enlarge.

Some are regulatory changes that can be accomplished by the Board of Governors; and those will probably start coming up for a vote at the next meeting in March.  Others require statutory change and will have to go to the state legislature for action.  Board members are expected to vote today on which state agencies need to approve each recommendation.

Once they’re parsed out, there will be more opportunity for public comments and complaints.

Looming over these proposals, however, is the state of community college funding in California.  They have lost nearly a billion dollars in the past three fiscal years as a result of the state’s massive deficits.  Even though community colleges essentially have open admissions, so many classes and course sections have been cut that about 130,000 students were turned away due to lack of space.

That could jeopardize some of the recommendations, in particular the measures to hold orientation sessions for new students and require them to develop education plans.  Providing that kind of individual support would require an increase in the number of counselors, who currently are assigned a minimum of 900 students each.  Hiring enough to provide the guidance that students really need would cost about $300 million, according to a back-of-the-envelope estimate by Linda Michalowski, the Vice Chancellor of Student Services, an amount she says they’ll never get.

In addition, task force members withdrew recommendations that would have cut the CalWorks program, which provides childcare, work study and job development for students who receive state assistance.  However, when Gov. Brown released his 2012-13 budget proposal last week, he recommended a $1 billion cut to CalWORKS.

The Board of Governors also eliminated a proposal to consolidate some categorical programs after getting an earful of complaints.  Gov. Brown’s budget plan would reinstate it.

“The Budget proposes to consolidate nearly all categorical programs and provide flexibility to CCC to use “flexed” funds for any categorical program purpose. This proposal will improve student access and success and will provide the colleges with more local control, flexibility, and decision‑making authority. The Administration will review the recommendations of the forthcoming Student Success Task Force report and explore other possibilities for expanding flexibility— including fee policy changes and loosening operational restrictions— for inclusion in the May Revision.”

There is at least one area where the Board of Governors is in agreement with Gov. Brown; unless his tax proposal is approved in November, preventing further cuts, getting through community college won’t be nearly as difficult as getting in.