Student Task Force limits access to aid

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media credit: Mary York

Higher education policy makers are describing it as “narrowing the gate.” Students are calling it “slamming the door in our faces.” Either way, the controversial Student Success Task Force Recommendations are moving toward approval by the California Legislature and community colleges will never be the same.

Senate Bill 1456, the Seymour-Campbell Student Success Act of 2012, is an effort to improve completion rates in community colleges by placing restrictions and unit caps on the Board of Governors Fee Waiver (BOGW).  If the legislation passes, students would be required to state a major, create an education plan and demonstrate satisfactory academic progress to be eligible for financial aid. BOGW would be capped at 110 units. A Southwestern College policy already limits BOGW at 100 units.

Nearly two thirds of SWC students currently receive BOGW. Under the legislation 20 percent of today’s students would be affected by the need to state an educational goal, 23 percent would be impacted by not meeting educational standards and nine percent would be affected by the unit cap, according to Patti Larkin, director of financial aid.

“If a college provides the necessary student services, the student should then meet satisfactory progress,” said Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), author of SB 1456.

Critics of the SSTF say the recommendations would restrict access to some students while forcing others through the system as quickly as possible. Gone are the days of sampling classes and exploring other fields of study. Recommendation 3.3 would provide students with the opportunity to consider the benefits of full-time enrollment. Their reasoning behind this is “the faster a student completes his or her education, the less time there is for life or family issues to get in the way.”

Recommendation 3.4 states students not ready for college would be required to enroll in basic skills courses to better prepare them to accomplish their goals. Due to budget reductions, basic skills courses are already well over capacity.

Another recommendation would focus on course offerings that contribute to a student’s progress. In the process of aligning course offerings to core courses, it could cut off funding to non-credit courses that do not contribute to an educational plan.

Critics claim the recommendations requiring all incoming students to participate into assessment, orientation, and the creation of an education plan do not take into consideration students not attending to transfer, or earn a certificate or associate degree.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Dr. Jack Scott said the issue of community colleges in California is getting students to succeed once they are in the system.  Scott said 54 percent of students do not earn a degree or certificate within six years of entering community college. Completion rates are lower with Latino and African-American students, with two in 10 and one in four, respectively, earning a certificate, associate’s degree or transfer within six years of entering college.

“By any measure these numbers are just unacceptable,” said Lowenthal. “There is a need for immediate but reasonable and responsible change and this bill is an important first step.”

Introduced in February by Lowenthal, the Student Success Act of 2012 is intended to increase community college access and success by providing effective core matriculation services. It also creates a program called the Student Success and Support Program that would be operative if funds were available.

“I think they’re looking at the things they think that can be most quickly implemented with potentially the least revenue needed,” said Randy Beach, co-chair of the SSTF implementation workgroup at SWC. “But all of the recommendations require money, so I’m not exactly sure how they’ll fund all of that.”

Assembly Bill 1741, sponsored by Paul Fong (D-Cupertino), dubbed the Student Success Infrastructure Act of 2012 was written to fund SB 1456. Specifically, SSIA would put aside money to increase the counselor to student ratio, restore critical student support services, increase the ratio of full-time to part-time faculty, and increase the professionalism of part-time faculty beginning with the expansion of paid office hours.

Angelina Stuart, SWC Academic Senate President, said SB 1456 and the recommendations provided by the Student Success Task Force were not necessarily bad for students, but includes unfunded mandates SWC may not have money to start and operate.

“We the faculty, we the senate, know how critical these services are to our students, but we’ve already cut so much, there’s no way we can do more without support,” said Stuart. “ If you were at your job and they asked you to do these extra jobs above and beyond what you already do, you’d ask for more funding to do these jobs.”

Both SB 1456 and AB 1741 are currently moving through the legislature and are expected to pass this spring.

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