By Lance Kramer
The California Community College Student Success Task Force was formed by California Community College Chancellor Jack Scott for one purpose: to make the difficult choices of how to ration education following a brutal decade of budget cuts across California’s education system. The Task Force produced a document that outlines who they feel should be entitled to California’s education system, and who should be left out.
This article highlights the most devastating attacks against California Community Colleges found in the Task Force recommendations.
Recommendation 3.2 out of Chapter 3, “Incentivize Successful Student Behaviors,” would require students receiving Board of Governors fee waivers to meet various conditions and requirements. This would strip “financially-needy students” of the BOG fee waiver if their grades fall, if they don’t have an approved educational goal, or if the student has taken more than 110 units.
“It would be a backslide of financial aid if we lose the BOG fee waiver,” said City College student and parent Lisa Russell, 26.
Older Adults, Immigrants, and Parents
Chapter 4, “Align Course Offerings to Meet Student Needs,” will direct community college’s course offerings and schedules to meet only the needs of students intending to transfer, earn an associate degree, or certificate. All classes not fulfilling these requirements could be cut.
“Courses that do not support programs of study and that solely serve an enrichment or recreational purpose should not be subsidized with state funds,” claims the Task Force document.
This means state funding would be cut to students and classes veering from a state-approved education plan. Students who take unapproved classes might be required to pay out-of-state tuition fees and lose all BOG waiver privileges.
“Students could go from paying very little to $200 a unit if their classes are not on their agenda,” said Karen Saginor, president of City College’s Academic Senate.
Closing the Door on the Needy
In Chapter 2, titled “Strengthen Support for Entering Students,” recommendation 2.2 would require students to participate in standardized diagnostic assessment, orientation and to develop an educational plan. Recommendation 2.4 would require students showing a lack of “college readiness” to participate in support resources.
Many students come to community colleges without the desire to transfer or earn a certificate. Recommendations 2.2 and 2.4 would require all incoming students to complete the full matriculation process at great additional cost to the colleges, discouraging enrollment for those who need only a few classes to develop specific skills.
“This is not just about priority,” said City College student Mike Epley, 28. “Thousands of students will be turned away, people would suffer. The students [the Task Force] will focus on are the ones who have a plan already.”
Chapter 7, titled “Enable Statewide Leadership & Increase Coordination among Colleges,” recommendation 7.1 would create a powerful new centralized community college system office in Sacramento.
It could result in City College of San Francisco and other colleges being forced to cut those courses developed to meet local needs. Popular classes like “The History of San Francisco” could face the chopping block.
Recommendation 7.3 would develop a “student success scorecard.” A type of achievement log called “momentum points” would be recorded for students, and schools which have students with more momentum points would be better funded.
Douglas R. Garrison, president of Monterey Peninsula College sees 7.3 as a recommendation that hasn’t been researched enough.
“This action… effectively re-engineers the California Community College funding mechanism without adequate examination by the colleges’ chief business officers, chief instructional officers, and chief executive officers to understand what the impacts will be,” said Garrison in an open email criticizing the Task Force’s findings.
Basic Skills and Enrollment
Recommendation 3.1 would adopt system-wide enrollment priorities. This would create further restrictions and limit access. “If you fail to make progress, you will lose priority enrollment,” said Lisa Russell. “We are narrowing the pathway to education if the Task Force gets the ‘say so’ on who gets priorities.”
Recommendation 3.4 requires students to begin addressing basic skills deficiencies in their first year. Those students who don’t test well would be required to take basic skills courses and nothing else, despite the fact that basic skills courses are already filled past capacity.
Students would also have to declare a major by their third semester. Karen Saginor said community colleges should have “contextualized learning,” which would give students the option of “taking different classes so you yourself can determine what you want to do.”
Recommendation 8.3 claims to promote flexibility and innovation in basic skills through an alternative funding mechanism. It seeks to better-fund colleges that show better testing results.
“Faculty have consistently expressed concerns about incentivized funding impacting academic standards since the institutions would be rewarded by moving students through the college curriculum, creating a potential conflict of interest,” said Monterey Peninsula College President Douglas Garrison.
“In fact, several of the current recommendations outline a form of outcomes-based funding without examination of whether outcomes-based funding should ever be implemented,” he said.
This creates questions about the Task Force’s motivations.
The Lumina Foundation is one of the key supporters of the Task Force, despite — or maybe because of — a major conflict of interest: prior experience in the student loan industry. The student loan industry is well known for fleecing students using high interest rates, and according to an investigative report by AllBusiness.com, 10 out of 14 of Lumina’s board members have prior ties to that industry.
Ultimately, the Task Force recommendations are not in the best interests of students, faculty, or anyone connected with community colleges. The recommendations will ration education by taking it away from the poor, people of color, immigrants, older adults, parents, and working class citizens. They redefine the word “success” to mean something entirely different from the mission that community colleges currently endorse.