By Skylar Wildfeuer
At the bottom of our college’s fiscal cliff lie the sharp rocks of California’s new State Funding Formula for community colleges, and the Hold Harmless net that held us is soon to be removed.
A Formulaic Solution
The formula, passed in 2018 by California lawmakers, is based on three calculations: total enrollment, number of students receiving a few specific grants, and student success allocation based on outcomes like associate degrees, certificates, and transferring to a four year institution. What is notably not considered worthy of state funding are enrichment art programs, elder education, and non degree students seeking career skills.
The shift towards degree-based funding formulas reflect policies enacted by the Obama Administration late in his second term. A 2015 Ruling by the Department of Education, which covered career colleges and some community college programs, tied Title IV funding to “gainful employment performance.”
In a public statement leading up to his 2015 state of the union address, President Barack Obama said, “We … have to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to train themselves for better jobs, better wages, better benefits.” His proposal was something approaching free city college for all. Currently, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Washington state offer city college grants depending on varying factors including need, major, enrollment status, and residency.
Innovating on Tradition
The new California City College Funding Formula and the 2015 Ruling by the Department of Education both serve to protect working class access to job training and that is important.
Community and city colleges have, since their inception as junior colleges in response to the financial downturns in the 1890s and 1930s and the need for training in new jobs after WWII, given working class people the tools to create flexibility for their future, to invest time into expanding themselves so that the battered post-war social framework might heal and begin to grow again. That must absolutely include job training.
Many of the first junior colleges were vocational schools and teacher training centers, but community and city colleges don’t have to be exclusively vocational to be true to their purpose. It isn’t about a piece of paper, or at least not exclusively. It’s about the pivoting that’s necessary when you’re poor and the fluctuations caused by the rich and their economic maneuvers impact you the most, causing your plans to have to change along with them, sometimes without warning
I want to champion a thing that’s beautiful about City College, and a truly “unique position on the educational field,” to draw language from a 1899 “junior college” brochure, that has more to do with the people who don’t necessarily transfer to a four year institution or get a certificate. I’m not against those things, but they already have their champions. .
Other Types of Value
The prioritization of training for labor, however, also undermines programs that don’t provide direct, measurable training for labor. I believe that these other offerings are no less worthy of existence.
These include the programs developed by the late Dr. Henry Augustine at the college, including the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Transfer Program, the Summer Bridge Program, the Peer Mentoring Program, and the African American Retention Program, now the African American Scholastic Programs (AASP).
The job-training considerations would also put at risk of cessation programs like Chinese Brush Painting. I know of it because I spoke a few weeks ago with a City College Chinese brush painting instructor Ming Ren, who teaches art students from all over the Bay Area because what he offers is an education that almost no one else can. He has students coming from traditionally prestigious schools like Stanford and UC Berkeley to learn from him, and then go on to graduate elsewhere. He also has a significant portion of his own personal student population who are retirees and therefore have little or no reason to work toward an associate’s degree. In fact, says Ren, many of them already have bachelor’s degrees.
Tradition In Peril
In some eras of our own City College, it has shown itself willing to be brutal with it’s faculty and students in its eagerness to comply with the Formula’s vision for the college as a paper mill. When the controversial Chancellor Rocha was facing a projected $13 million budget shortfall his solution was to cut 350 class sections weeks before the start of the Spring 2020 semester.
Among those cut were 90% of the college’s Older Adult (OLAD) Education, which was left with no more than 6 classes.
Little over a year later Rocha’s interim successor Dr. Vurdien’s administration sent out pink slips to 163 faculty members. Had the cuts not been averted by salary concessions on the part of the faculty, programs like the Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS) and Philippines Studies would have been all but completely gutted.
The cost of this mindset is both a de facto and a de juro reduction in enrollment. Fewer classes can only mean fewer students. Beyond that, the reduction of offerings may be a significant factor in the college’s decade of consistent enrollment decline.
According to 2019-20 headcount data the school has lost 30,117 students since Academic Year (AY) 2010-11, a 36% decline over ten years. This represents a 26% drop in Credit-enrolled students, and almost half of all non-credit students, or 49%.
In his last meeting of the Board of Trustees as Interim Chancellor, Vurdien advised solidarity among City College adherents, and shared optimism about funding prospects. “The Unions, the senates, the Board, administration, in presenting a solid unified face you will achieve much more, you will get much more funding from the city and the state, if you can present a united front with a unified request for funding.”
So we have had several leaders who thought that canceling an important component of the college’s offerings would improve the college’s financial situation, but that, apparently, has not turned out to be true. And it is so paternalistic of the state to dictate which courses benefit our lives, and it is sick to base that dictation on what best feeds the industrial capitalist machine, and our own City College is better than that.
There is communal, relational, intersectional, radical work that has been done. The community has built programs to meet its own needs. There is still more left to be done. The college should be funded and guided in accordance with the real work it actually does and not an outsider’s idea of what the City College of San Francisco does, or should be doing.
This makes me extremely wary of the candidates for chancellor. Do any of them have an idea of what our college is as a unique institution that meets our unique bay area population? Or do they think that the college’s purpose is exclusively to churn out training certificates and associate’s degrees for transfer?
If they want to tell me their beliefs, I would absolutely love to get a hold of them to interview. Please reach out, Dr. Martin, Dr. Whalen, and Dr. Villa! I want to know: have you studied our college’s unique history? Do you believe in it’s important work?
The people who seem to me to know what that important work is and how to serve our trainees, our students intent on transferring, as well as our students in need of cultural enrichment and specific support, are the instructors. It seems to me that they are the ones who have historically and consistently seen needs and met them. They are to City College its most vital component, both rudder and sail, and ultimately the reason we attend. They are the ones who are best equipped to understand how our hulking system needs to run before it is run aground