The California Community Colleges Student Success Task Force (SSTF) has reached agreement on 22 recommendations to increase graduation and transfer rates. But implementing the report will be a “huge challenge,” task force member Nancy Shulock tells Thoughts on Public Education. Shulock is director of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy at Sacramento State University.
The most controversial proposal would give enrollment priority to new students and those who stay on track to earn a degree or certificate or transfer to a four-year college. Students who’ve earned 110 credits or more without completing a credential would lose their enrollment priority and fee waivers.
Nearly 140,000 first-time students couldn’t get into a single course in 2009-10, while others were repeating classes with no apparent plans to graduate, says Chancellor Jack Scott. Students who exceed 100 credits rarely earn a degree, according to a University of Michigan report.
Community colleges are trying to deal with $400 million in cuts this year. Some have cut noncredit enrichment courses for older adults.
West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon likened the situation to a hospital emergency room, where doctors have to prioritize patients. It’s not that some classes are worthless, said Cabaldon, but they’re not priorities. “There are students who cannot get into college, for whom our experience would transform their lives, but we’ve got 10,000 who are taking Ukulele for Adults and Tai Chi,” he said.
Students should commit to an academic program by the start of the second year to increase the odds of completion, the report recommended.
San Francisco City College’s student newspaper strongly opposes the plan, as do other community college newspapers across the state. In an editorial, The Guardsman wrote:
The report recommends eliminating non-credit courses, creating one-size-fits-all placement tests for California’s diverse student population, stripping local college boards of their power, gouging students returning for their second degrees, and requiring any student not transferring to a university within a strict two-year deadline to pay outrageously expensive out-of-state fees. The Task Force recommendations will benefit higher-income students more, while students who attend part-time and work while attending school will be hit hardest. These recommendations would close off higher education to California’s 99 percent and slam the door shut in their faces.
The task force was funded by foundations, which the editorial calls “private interests.” The editorial charges that “10 out of 14 of Lumina’s board members have ties to the student loan industry — a sure sign that they should not be trusted.”
Lumina’s board has 12 members with backgrounds in “business, higher education, investment and finance,” the foundation responds. “Of these 12 directors, none is currently associated with the student loan industry, though five of them are either former employees or former board members of USA Group or Sallie Mae.”