I came across this report on California Community Colleges which concludes that while California is successful in removing barriers so that students can enter college, it is failing when it comes to helping students complete college (whether a degree or a certificate). “Of the 60 percent [of students] who are seeking a degree or certificate, only about one-fourth succeed in transferring to a university and/or earning an associates degree or a certificate within six years” (2).
I was curious about what this report had to say because I myself attended two California community colleges (Fullerton College and Santa Barbara City College) before transferring to Cal State Fullerton. Then, as now, California charged virtually no tuition (only health fees, that kind of thing) and there was no pressure to take only courses required for my program. So I was able to switch majors a year-and-a-half into it (from Music to English) and I was able to take several courses that I didn’t need but wanted to take (like meteorology and 19th century philosophy). So I can easily see how CCC students might be tempted to meander too much (though it’s great to have the opportunity in life to meander like that.)
But what I didn’t know, until I read this report (well, skimmed it), was that California’s policies were also serving actually to hinder completion. It seems the finance system is setup so that colleges are discouraged from funding support services (like Writing Centers).
Institutional responsibility to help students succeed.
In stark contrast to CCC policies, the national trend is toward embracing a philosophy of “the institutional responsibility to help students succeed.” States participating in national demonstration projects are moving to set and communicate clear and consistent standards of college readiness, assess all incoming students and place them in appropriate classes, require early remediation of basic skills deficiencies before allowing students to pursue higher-level coursework, and help students identify program goals and pathways for meeting their goals. This commitment to student success requires a level of student support that may be precluded under current CCC policies that limit revenues and restrict or discourage certain expenditures. (13)
So hopefully California will follow this report’s suggestion and provide colleges with more flexibility with funding in order to provide more support services.
I have mixed feelings about another recommendation, though. The report discusses the state’s policies which make it so that 75% of their faculty must be full-time, and, while admitting that this policy does right to encourage a quality faculty, suggests that the state give colleges more flexibility to hire part-timers in order to meet students’ needs. Ouch, that’s exactly why there’s plague now of colleges using mostly part-timers to teach composition. Uh oh. But, come on folks, there’s got to be a better way to meet students’ needs than hiring part-timers. Especially when it comes to English, since the need for classes is going to be consistent for a long time to come, why not stick with the full-timers.
Anyway… hopefully this report will trigger mostly change for the better.
Shulock, Nancy, and Colleen Moore. Rules of the Game: How State Policy Creates Barriers to Degree Completion and Impedes Student Success in the California Community Colleges. Cal State Sacramento Institute for Higher Education & Policy, February 2007. http://www.hewlett.org/NR/rdonlyres/A4DFB403-0374-4D07-A24E-1F7619B66B22/0/Rules_of_the_Game.pdf