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California community college board endorses sweeping reforms

January 9, 2012 |  6:04 pm


The governing board of California’s community colleges on Monday approved reforms intended to streamline the path to graduation and transfer for thousands of students.

The California Community Colleges Board of Governors endorsed the policies at a meeting in Sacramento that featured more than three hours of public comment, including vigorous opposition from many students who argued that the plan would penalize low-income and other disadvantaged students.

The reforms were suggested by a statewide task force that met for a year to consider how to improve outcomes for more than 2.6 million community college students at a time of dwindling state support.

The package will now be sent to the Legislature for review. It was unclear when the proposals would be enacted, since many require amending existing education codes.

The thrust of the reforms represents a seismic shift in community colleges’ traditional role as open to all comers and would move to ration access to classes and would push students to meet their academic goals through incentives.

Among the 22 recommendations are requiring all colleges to use a single assessment for English and math skills and prioritizing registration and fee waivers for students who have concrete goals, such as a degree, certificate or transfer to a four-year college.

Course offerings and schedules would be aligned to students' needs, including focusing on basic skills and classes needed to transfer. In addition, the community colleges chancellor would assume more authority to implement reforms over the state’s 72 community college districts and 112 colleges.
Campuses would also be required to publish a scorecard, detailing their performance in such areas as completion rates.

Much criticism centered on actions that would narrow the historic mission of community colleges as outlined more than 50 years ago in the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education, and many of those who spoke to the board said the plan did not address how to fund wider student support services, such as counseling.

Many argued for more public discussion and review.

“Faculty is very concerned and feel that the pace of the proceedings and implementation does not reflect the buy-in needed for full support,” said Jonathan Lightman, executive director of the Faculty Assn. of California Community Colleges.

Others, however, urged board members to seize the opportunity to confront serious systemic issues, including persistent achievement gaps.

“I do believe this is the greatest opportunity this system has ever had to close the achievement gaps that exist in California’s community colleges,” said Eloy Oakley, superintendent and president of Long Beach City College.


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Photo: A 2011 class at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times