Student Success Act ushers in new era at California’s community colleges
Breaking the mold - Former art department chairman Richard Akers poses with his self-portrait, In the Woods, in the Eddie Rhodes Gallery on Sept. 3. Akers is currently serving as Academic Senate president. (Sam Attal / The Advocate)
Of the changes occurring at California's community colleges under Senate Bill 1456, otherwise known as the Student Success Act of 2012, none holds as much weight with returning students as the changes to registration priority.
Effective when enrollment for the fall 2014 semester begins Monday, incoming students who complete orientation and assessment, meet with a counselor, declare a major and develop an educational plan will be given an earlier registration date than returning students with 100 or more accumulated units.
A loss of priority due to high unit volume can be appealed to Admissions and Records by students with the appropriate documentation of extenuating circumstances.
Competitive demand and overcrowded classrooms are the biggest reasons these students who are losing their registration priority at Contra Costa College would want to appeal their cases.
But if new students who are compliant with the state's new system have high priority, and returning students who can prove they deserve to retain their priority through appeal have high priority as well, how can anyone expect the system to change?
It is a stretch to believe the changes put in place under the act will actually allow students to complete goals faster.
It is understandable that the state wants to give priority to new students who think they immediately know their educational goal and can move through the system in two years.
However, such a mandate leaves little room for students to change their minds, let alone explore their options and their passions, before deciding on a major.
Most students give two reasons they chose to attend a community college: it is significantly cheaper than the cost of a four-year school, and it provides a way for them to acclimate to higher education while giving them a chance to explore academic options.
But the Student Success Act ultimately takes the option of exploration away from community college students.
What happens if, after two years of work toward a major, a student finds his or her initial educational goal does not suit him or her and wishes to pursue another path?
Even though she knew her major before arriving at CCC, biology major Danielle Odeh-Ajero still needed three years to complete her classes, and many other science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors take even longer to develop their foundations before transferring.
High demand for courses limited to just a few sections made getting the necessary classes difficult for Odeh-Ajero.
Even students who retain their registration priority end up competing for the sections they need to make academic progress, and often times stick around an extra semester or two to just get into them.
With the state's new emphasis on churning out educated individuals as rapidly as possible, it would be nice if CCC would offer more class sections, especially in impacted departments like English or history.
Of course this may not be possible even as CCC's administration is leveraging what limited resources it has to comply with the Student Success Act and meet the educational needs of students, all while the campus is obstructed and classroom space limited due to construction of the new Campus Center.
One result of the Student Success Act is that the community has been taken out of community colleges, making the experience less personal. Another is the reduction of class variety, as augmenting the system to get students to graduation quicker is shifting focus toward core classes and the most popular electives, slowly phasing out less popular, but just as relevant, classes.
But the ultimate result is these colleges are no longer community centers for self-exploration, lifelong learning and skills improvement, but just forgettable stepping stones on students' hurried routes to graduation.
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