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Community college reforms headed to governor

August 30, 2012 |  6:27 pm

California’s community colleges began the fall term this week on a low note, having slashed course offerings in response to severe funding cuts and with thousands of students on waiting lists for classes.

But the system received a dose of good news Thursday when a bill aimed at improving graduation and transfer rates was approved by the state Legislature.

The bill, SB 1456 and known as the Student Success Act of 2012, was approved in the Senate by a vote of 36 to 1 after having passed the Assembly on Tuesday by a unanimous vote. It is now headed to the governor’s desk.

The bill was authored by state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach).

If signed into law, it would initiate a number of significant reforms for the two-year college system.

These include:

-- providing students with orientation, assessment, placement and counseling services;

-- requiring students to identify an educational goal, such as a degree or a certificate for transfer to a four-year university;

-- requiring students who qualify for a Board of Governors fee waiver to make satisfactory academic progress, and

-- mandating campuses that receive student support service funds post scorecards with completion rates for all students and progress in closing achievement gaps among ethnic groups.

Most of the measures were recommended by the Student Success Task Force, which was charged by the Legislature with developing guidelines to improve outcomes for the 2.4 million students in the 112-college system.

Studies have found that only about one-third of those students earn a degree, certificate or transfer after six years. 

“The Legislature clearly recognized that this bill’s important policy changes will put more students on the path to completing their educational goals and will make California more competitive economically,” Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott said in a statement.

As a policy, the governor does not comment on legislation before he takes action on it, a spokeswoman said.

The bill was endorsed by a broad coalition of academic, student, civic, business and community organizations.

Some faculty and students, however, had opposed the bill, arguing that it did not provide sufficient funding to produce students’ success and that inequities for disadvantaged students would increase.

The bill addressed some of those concerns by requiring that new policies be phased in over a period of time as funding allows and establishing an appeals process.

Although the bill provides no additional funding for programs, it calls for redirecting some existing funds to support services.

“It is revolutionary that student success is finally front and center,” Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, said in a statement. “California will have a scorecard, broken down by race, on how each college is moving students through the pipeline. And by requiring education plans and orientation, campuses will provide students with the clarity and direction they need to succeed.”

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