By Sara Bloomberg
With only two abstentions, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors has unanimously approved the adoption of the final recommendations of the Student Success Task Force, setting in motion the implementation of a controversial new set of rules.
A lively crowd of over 100 people, including more than two dozen City College students and faculty, assembled Jan. 9 in Sacramento at the board’s meeting chambers in the Capitol building to testify for and against the adoption of what the State Chancellor’s Office described as an historic set of reforms for community colleges in California.
Chancellor Jack Scott commended the work by the Task Force which was established in January 2011 by SB 1143 and entrusted with the responsibility of assessing “student success” in California in order to develop a plan for increasing transfer, graduation and degree completion rates for community college students. The Task Force was also charged with examining ways to prioritize funding for students to achieve their stated goals.
“I can’t tell you how hard and how wonderfully the Task Force worked and how much discussion they engendered,” said Scott, though he acknowledged, “there’s no claim for perfection.”
Opponents of the decision worry that the Task Force’s recommendations will lead to the explicit rationing of education, increased student debt via loans, decreased access and equity for the most vulnerable students, and reduced local autonomy for colleges.
“The report does not provide evidence-based examinations of the issues, nor does it explore the probable consequences from the major changes it proposes,” claims City College Academic Senate President Karen Saginor.
Saginor foresees that recommendation 8.3 will lead to test preparation in lieu of actual instruction and recommendations 3.1 and 7.3 will lead to skewed statistics regarding completion rates if students are forced to indicate long-term goals that they have no intention of completing.
Saginor explains that by tying unit caps to BOG Fee Waiver eligibility, as laid out in recommendation 3.2, poorer students who reach the 110 unit limit could loose access to classes because they can’t afford the costs previously covered by the Fee Waiver.
Conversely, wealthier students who reach the unit cap and can still afford to pay their fees will be able to continue their education.
Student Senators Take a More Nuanced Approach
“This is not a consensus document. This is a controversial document,” said City College ESL instructor Susan Lopez, echoing the sentiment that many voices were left out of the Task Force’s discussions, particularly student voices.
Students had only one representative on the twenty-two member Task Force, namely Student Senate for California Community Colleges President Kevin Feliciano.
“We hope that the Board of Governors will ensure that students are at the table,” said Feliciano, referring to the implementation phase of the Task Force’s recommendations.
The Student Senate, a body of elected representatives from all 112 community colleges across the state, supports 11 of the 22 recommendations and raised concerns about the rest but stopped short of asking the board not to endorse the recommendations.
“We didn’t reject the proposal as a whole but there are parts we have conflicts with,” said Student Senator Eddie Triste of Allan Hancock College in Santa Barbara.
One of the concerns outlined by the Student Senate regards the Task Force’s narrow definition of student success, which they say fails to acknowledge varied paths of student success.
City College student Fly Benzo addressed this when he told the board, “As an African American, just being in college is successful.”
Two of the recommendations are particularly worrisome to the Student Senators.
The first being Recommendation 3.2, which stipulates attaching unit caps to BOG Fee Waiver eligibility, and the second being Recommendation 4.1, which removes state funding for “courses not in support of student educational plans”, also known as enrichment classes, such as dance, music, art and foreign languages.
However, recognizing that there are many students who do need additional support, the Student Senate agrees that more needs to be done to address basic skills deficiencies that begin at the K-12 level and that these deficiencies should be addressed in the first year of enrollment at a community college, as explained in Recommendations 1.1 and 3.4.
It had long been understood that the board would vote on the Task Force’s final report in its entirety and not item by item, which could explain the Student Senate’s diplomatic approach to the final report.
Student Senator and City College Student Trustee Jeffrey Fang asked the board to look beyond the emotions of that afternoon and to listen to all the speakers’ concerns.
The Final Vote
Superintendent-President of the Long Beach Community College District Eloy Oakley supported the Board’s decision.
“The system is trying to deal with funding in California. How do you prioritize the resources you have?” said Oakley, referring to budget cuts.
Thirteen members of the Task Force were present that day, including Chancellor Scott, Feliciano and West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon.
Cabaldon defended the Task Force’s work.
“Do I love every recommendation in it?” he said. “No, but I support the report.”
Board Vice President Alice Perez allowed Cabaldon to speak over his allotted two minutes, without interrupting or warning him as she had done to several speakers before. The audience noticed.
Somebody shouted, “Nobody cut him off!”
Board President Scott Himelstein asked the audience several times during the three hours of testimony to refrain from disruptions such as clapping or hissing and even threatened to end the public comment period if further disruptions occurred.
Several board members implored the audience to get involved with the implementation process, saying that the Task Force’s final report was just a “recommendation”, effectively downplaying the weight that such a recommendation will have during implementation and negating the fact that many parts are exempt from legislative approval.
As the board concluded announcing their votes one by one, a group of students interrupted with an Occupy-style mike check, raised a banner stating “Education is a right, not a privilege” and chanted, “Our voices have not been heard!” and “We’ll be back!”
Students Fight Back
Over 20 California community college newspapers have recently published articles challenging the Task Force, as part of a coordinated effort spearheaded by The Guardsman staff.
In December 2011, The Guardsman published an editorial denouncing the Task Force as an assault on public education in California and calling for students across the state to fight back.