Course variety deficit 'ridiculous'
Lack of elective options hinder English majors
Students interested in English electives, for a major requirement or because of general interest, have very few options at Contra Costa College.
This semester, those interested in taking an elective in English have two options. Students can take a Film Appreciation course, offered once a week, or an American literature course offered every third Saturday of the semester.
"We would love to offer more sections," Liberal Arts Division Dean Jason Berner said. "It's a struggle to get the enrollment numbers. It makes it hard to offer more sections."
Berner said the core English courses, English 1A, 1B and 1C, are much more popular than the electives.
"The core English classes are a requirement for everyone, so they tend to attract more students," he said.
This semester, CCC has a total of 74 English sections, where 34 sections are dedicated to the core classes, three sections are dedicated to classes that assist students with disabilities, two sections are being used for English electives, and 35 sections are dedicated to building basic English skills, such as reading and writing.
Berner said, "A very large percentage, something like 80 percent, of students coming to CCC need some form of skills development, be it in English or in math."
English department Chairperson Jeffrey Michels said, "Historically, in the last 5-10 years, we usually offer three English electives (per semester)."
Dr. Michels explained that a lack of enrollment is generally the reason for the low number of offerings.
"I've tried offering classes such as Children's Literature and a course about Villains and Scoundrels that was a lot of fun, but we only ever drew the minimum number of students," Michels said.
Students disagree with the lack of interest in the program. English major Hayley Callaway said, "It's insane that a major as popular as English has so few electives."
Callaway said the lack of electives is hindering students who wish to transfer and graduate.
The sister college
CCC's sister college, Diablo Valley College, has a much different story in regards to its English department.
Michels said, "DVC's English department is the largest department in the district."
Large is certainly one way to describe it. Where CCC has six full-time faculty members, DVC boasts 26 full-time positions in the department. Where CCC has 33 part-time faculty, DVC has 90.
Antonia Fannin, DVC's English department chairperson, wrote in an email, "Full-time faculty are critical to ensure that any college is able to meet its obligations to students, the community and the state."
What DVC's larger number of full-time faculty means is that there are more professors present at DVC that can assist students. Where part-time faculty members may spend time working at multiple colleges, full-time faculty can dedicate more time, during office hours and in class, to students.
"Unfortunately, CCC lost about five full-time faculty members that we (still) have to replace," Michels said. "The administration, though, seems to be on the same page as us, that we need to have more full-time faculty teaching classes."
CCC's Vice President Tammeil Gilkerson confirmed that they are hiring. Gilkerson said, "We are currently hiring about seven full-time faculty members. One in English, political science, drama, two for counseling and one position in the library."
DVC has no lack of student interest in English.
While CCC is offering two electives this semester and no English electives over the summer, DVC is offering 16 distinct English electives this semester, many with multiple sections. DVC is also offering four electives courses over the summer.
Callaway said, "Most people who want to major in any sort of humanities have to go to DVC to be able to complete their degree in a timely manner, which is completely ridiculous."
Fannin said much like CCC, the most popular courses are the core curriculum courses, the classes that every student needs to qualify for transfer to a four-year school, but that DVC always tries to offer a wide variety of classes.
"We usually offer, at a minimum, 200 sections a semester," Fannin said. "We also have had a push from on-high to expand, and offer more courses and more sections, so we're hiring and looking to grow."
With what is already a huge department, DVC's expansion makes it seem like a better place to go for English majors.
"Not to say anything bad about anyone teaching at DVC, but CCC's English professors are really, really good," Michels said. "Both Eichner-Lynch and I have our Ph.D.s, and are always trying to find ways to make students more interested in English."
Michels said there have been times, to draw interest toward his department, he has dressed up to perform Shakespeare scenes with other English professors.
CCC and DVC are extremely close together. It is approximately 20 miles from CCC to DVC, a drive that is likely only to take 15 minutes depending on the time of day.
DVC's Vice President of Instruction Rachel Westlake said, "DVC has a long-term reputation as a transfer school, and as such, we draw students from all over the Bay Area."
Fannin said that it is quite possible that DVC's larger variety of course offerings draw serious English majors toward DVC.
Michels disagrees. He said, "CCC serves a very challenging community due to socio-economic status. I don't want to say anything negative about the local high schools, but DVC and CCC serve two completely different demographics."
Demographic information about various community colleges is tracked by the Student Success Scorecard, a tool the state has begun using to clearly represent the diversity of colleges, as well as the areas students at community colleges struggle and shine in. According to the Student Success Scorecard for CCC, the college's ethnic breakdown is approximately 26 percent African-American, 14 percent Asian, 30 percent Hispanic and 14 percent white. DVC's ethnic breakdown is about 41 percent white, 19 percent Hispanic, 12 percent Asian and 6 percent African-American.
The high schools that surround the two colleges also perform much differently than each other.
Every year the state release an API, or Academic Performance Index, report, which ranks schools all over the state based upon their performance. A school's API rank is based upon the performance of that school's students on the yearly STAR, or Standardized Testing and Reporting, testing.
Schools receive a ranked number between one and 10. A one represents a very low performing school, where a 10 means that school is one of the best.
Of the high schools within 15 miles of CCC, only Middle College High School, housed at CCC, has been consistently ranked above a six for the past five years. The average rank for high schools that CCC regularly would draw students from is two.
The average rank for school's surrounding DVC is eight. DVC also has a very large number of high schools surrounding it with an API rank of 10.
Yet despite all of this, the Student Success Scorecard shows about 31 percent of students who enter DVC enter with English skills below the level required for transfer. The percentage of students who enter CCC below the level needed to transfer is about 34 percent. There is only about a 3 percent difference between the two.
"Though I do agree with the basic idea that variety in course offerings is very important," Michels said.
Callaway said, "Contra Costa needs to start being a college students can depend on."
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