State, colleges rewriting mission
Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 17:05
California’s mission statement as part of the Master Plan for Higher Education of 1960 made bold oaths to its students.
The document promised open access to education from a community college to anyone who could benefit from it. It also promised that community colleges would not charge tuition.
Both promises have been broken after the state has faced massive budget cuts.
“This mission has changed,” Contra Costa College Interim President Dan Henry said. “The cuts have changed it.”
As a result of increased fees, dwindling resources and fewer course sections offered due to systemwide budget cuts, community college districts are refocusing their goals.
These changes significantly alter how college administrators make decisions and limit which students they serve.
“The original goal of community colleges was to provide universal access,” CCC Academic Senate President Wayne Organ said. “We are getting more and more restricted access.”
The entire Contra Costa Community College District is spawning away from the original plan and rationing access.
“It’s a plan that cannot be realized,” district Chancellor Helen Benjamin said. “It isn’t practical in the 21st century. It’s a great idea, (but) there needs to be adjustments made to the mission.”
As California sits in a $16 billion deficit this fiscal year, community colleges have suffered deep cuts, limiting their yearly budgets and course section offerings each semester.
Although CCC is not safe from the reductions, it is pushing for higher completion rates, Henry said.
Completion rates are based on the number of students who either transfer to a four-year university or earn a degree or certificate.
The new goals focus on getting students in and out of community colleges faster.
“We have to support students moving on,” Henry said.
Community enrichment courses for “life-long learners,” or students who take courses without plans to transfer or graduate, have been slashed.
Fine and media arts department Chairperson John Diestler said courses about and for the local area have been cut, removing the community aspect from CCC. Instead, most of the remaining courses are articulated toward transferring students to either a California State University or University of California.
“We’ve become less and less of a community college and more and more of a CSU junior college,” Diestler said. “(CCC) had courses that were interesting and viable but the state’s saying they’re not leading anywhere.”
Along with transfer, CCC is focused on training through its 14 remaining vocational programs and teaching basic academic skills to those who lack them.
The college is following the new rules set by the state Community College Task Force to get students focused to become transfer students in two years. The rules do not give students much time to try out different subjects at community colleges, Diestler said.
“You get very few shoppers,” he said. “Now everything is watered down.”
CCC’s budget woes are squeezing out more than those looking to take classes for their own enrichment. Some students who are looking for classes to transfer or graduate cannot register for courses because not enough are offered, Organ said. Many sections also fill up early.
Organ said the trend to turn away students will continue as long as the state deficit remains high. He said the state does not see the importance of educating every student.
“Everyone who wants an education should be able to get an education,” Organ said.
Automotive services department Chairperson Peter Lock said he prefers not to turn away students.
“Over the years, I’ve taken more students than I have to mainly because I have to keep the program going, but also because this was their first choice.”
Dental assisting department Chairperson Sandra Everhart has no choice but to reject students from her courses. Her program will be terminated indefinitely beginning this summer because its $200,000 annual operating budget is too much for the college to pay.
“Every time I turn a student away I’m failing at giving that student an opportunity,” Everhart said. “I feel like I put another hurdle in front of someone’s life.”
Her program does not produce the fast completion rates the district desires. It usually enrolls about 24 students in the 10-month program. Only a fraction complete each year because many of the students are taking classes part time while working or taking care of children.
“It seems probable that if budget cuts are looming, more programs are going to get cut which means the way we serve students is going to change,” Everhart said. “Those folks who are not interested in going to a four-year university or prepared to go to a four-year university are being failed.”