California community colleges have historically been platforms for students to explore the depth of themselves and experience new educational endeavors. Students fresh out of high school, returning students and community members seeking to better themselves have found a welcome at California’s two-year colleges for more then 50 years.
State leaders are “narrowing the gate” and working to push students through in two years. The Student Success Act of 2012 (SB 1456) was passed with the intent to push more students to complete Associate’s degrees or transfer to four-year universities. At Southwestern College about 43 percent of students transfer or complete a degree and the average time is six years, according to college research.
Proponents argue that the legislation will improve student success rates, increase efficiency and lower costs. Critics say that it will harm students who do not have a major their freshman year and will discourage students from trying new subjects.
California’s Legislature directed the Board of Governors to create the California Community Colleges Student Success Task Force, a 22-member committee aimed at changing the framework of 112 community colleges and 71 off-campus centers. Recommendations made by the Task Force will be implemented in phases through 2015.
Students will be required to attend an orientation and develop a Student Education Plan during their freshman year. Educational planning services and state standardized diagnostic assessment tests will also be mandatory for new students. Students who are not assessed will not receive financial aid, including the Board of Governors Waiver (BOGW). Students must declare a major after completing 30 units.
Colleges are now required to publish scorecards that measure their students’ academic success.
Enrollment priorities have also been changed by the Student Success Act. Lots of units is no longer a priority. First-time students will register first, followed by EOPS students, veterans and students with disabilities. BOGW will be capped at 110 units and denied to students who are not in good academic standing.
New restrictions on class repeatability are coming and colleges will be required to focus their class schedules on the courses that students need based on their placement exams.
Online tools and services must be made available for students to develop education plans and monitor their progress.
SWC President Dr. Melinda Nish was a member of the original Student Success Task Force and a “full throttle” proponent of the new law. SB1456 is meant to “establish a passport for transfer,” she said.
“The committee (members) did not agree on everything, but they did their work,” she said.
Nish implores students to take the new implementations seriously.
“One of the things our students really need to pay attention to is that there is a recommendation that there be academic standards put into place for BOGW fee waivers and we anticipate them to go into effect in 2015,” she said.
Nish said she understands that there are areas of potential concern for SWC students, particularly low-income students and students who work.
“Seventy-five percent of students have jobs, which is the highest percentage in the San Diego community colleges,” said Nish. “It is understood that a working student will take longer to finish school, which in respect is not necessarily a bad thing, but perhaps looks poorly on the mandated score cards.”
Nish said the purpose of the scorecards is to get a “pulse of how well our students are doing.”
Detailed metrics of the scorecard have been measured by the California Community College Chancellor’s office. Nish said the scorecards will hold other schools accountable in a quantitative method, but it is not precise.
“Numbers don’t tell the whole story,” she said.
Another problem with the scores is lack of portability, Nish said. Assessment scores are non-transferable between colleges. Each time a student transfers to another school Nish said, their assessments would not count at another community college, even if the schools belong to the same district. Nish said the Task Force recommended standardize testing nationwide.
Little progress has been made on this front, she said.
Critics said they fear the Student Success Act will create a centralized control of community colleges in Sacramento, making it a lumbering bureaucracy.
Dennis Frisch, president of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges (FACCC), sent a letter addressed to Dr. Jack Scott, Chancellor of California Community Colleges. Frish said there are dire oversights and impending negative outcomes if the program is implemented in California.
“Classroom faculty and counselors are in the best position to respond to the specific needs of local students,” he said.
Frish warned that imposed assessments would limit what local community colleges have defined as success for their service areas, while sweeping aside the unparalleled contribution they bring to the diverse community of students. Such an outcome would be limiting opportunities and access to classes for students.
A BOGW fee cap at 110 units, will undermine the core mission of Community Colleges by denying access to the neediest students in our system, he said.
“Wealthy students under the proposal would have better access to the public education than those lacking means,” he said.
Frish said an EOPS counselor is more sensitive to how many units an underemployed “member of the working poor” can have under his belt, than state officials.
Nish said the intent of the legislation is to help students from all walks of life. Students that enter community colleges are not college ready, she said.
“College preparedness is based on when you are assessed and ready to go to a college math and English,” she said. “Sometimes people measure completion rates with a socioeconomic level and you have to ask yourself why?”
Nish said implementing the Student Success Act will be bumpy, but she predicted it would help students to earn degrees, obtain certificates and transfer in less time with less money. Two-year colleges, she said, may actually move students through in two years.