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Community college task force amends disputed student success plan

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A task force that has been selling a sweeping package of reforms aimed at increasing student success in the California Community Colleges has removed several proposed changes from the plan in an attempt to assuage concerns about cuts to special services and negative consequences for some students.

The plan’s 22 recommendations [PDF] focus on improving the rates at which community college students earn degrees or certificates, transfer to a four-year university or achieve their job-training goals.

The 20-member task force – which includes trustees, campus presidents, business representatives, faculty and students – has been working on the document since January. Its recommendations would reward students who make progress toward educational goals with enrollment priority and continued access to financial aid, require all colleges to use the same assessment tool, and improve technology to help guide students through their educational plans, for example.  

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Task force leaders presented the changes to the plan at a special informational meeting of the Board of Governors yesterday in San Diego.

After shopping the plan around the state at town hall meetings and conferences, the task force removed several controversial recommendations, including a proposal that would have taken eight separate programs that have their own strict funding streams and lumped them together into one big, flexible pot. These include programs such as basic skills, California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) and foster care.

The idea was that this large pot would give colleges the flexibility to target the money on student success strategies that best fit their schools.

But as California Watch reported in November, this recommendation sparked concern among several groups about the consequences for some students and programs.

“Feedback from the field very strongly expressed concerns that consolidating (the funding programs) would weaken them and that it would diminish student support in many areas,” said Peter MacDougall, chairman of the task force.

The task force removed a recommendation that would have only allowed state funding for noncredit courses that were categorized as career development or college preparatory. The proposal had generated controversy because it would have negatively affected ESL programs and others considered key to the colleges’ mission.

It also removed a proposal to require students to pay the full, unsubsidized price for courses not in their educational plans.

Board members at the meeting reacted positively, for the most part, to the group’s report. Board members’ questions focused mostly on how some of the 22 recommendations would be approved and implemented. The panel will vote on a final package of recommendations in January.

Board member Henry A.J. Ramos asked how the community college system would measure the success of the recommendations, if they were implemented. The plan does not set specific goals for increasing transfer or completion rates, for example.

“If we just let it sit without having some sort of metrics … I’m not sure we would stretch ourselves as far and wide as we would need to,” Ramos said.

During the meeting's public comment period, several faculty members and staff from community colleges said the plan still could have negative consequences for some students.

“If all you’re counting are transfer, degrees or certificates, you’ve left out a lot of the reasons that people come to community colleges in the first place,” said Madeleine Hinkes, president of the academic senate at San Diego Mesa College. “We think educated citizens are the key to a strong California.”

One high-profile voice – Bob Shireman, former deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education – called on the board to focus on helping more students succeed in community college as a means to make room for the thousands of students who can’t get into classes right now because budget cuts have limited course offerings.

Shireman said many of the students who can’t get into community college classes turn to for-profit institutions.

“They are paying huge fees; many are not completing and are ending with debt," he said. "Think about ... getting more students to complete so they move on, so other students can move into the room.”

Filed under: Higher Ed, Daily Report

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