Monday, November 7, 2011

Community College League of California: A Defining Moment

November 7, 2011

Dear Bay Area CC:

Good morning from the train to San Francisco, where I am attending a session of economists, educators and local officials at the Federal Reserve Bank. The focus on the session is creating and employing a skilled workforce. And, then tomorrow, I'm flying to Detroit to participate in PolicyLink's Equity Summit.
Meanwhile, in Sacramento, our policy and advocacy team will be at the Board of Governors as it takes a first look this afternoon at the draft recommendations of the Student Success Task Force. You can watch the webcast, and the task force topic is scheduled to be heard after 1pm.
I don't share my schedule and that of my staff to demonstrate that we can walk and chew gum at the same time, but rather because there is an important intersection between all of these events this week. And, that intersection is causing the greatest angst that I have seen in my years advocating for our colleges.
Let's face it. We are rationing the community college education we provide. And, too often we are doing so irrationally.
Real funding per student has dropped from $6,097 in 2000-01 to $4,997 in 2010-11. And, that's after the state slashed the number of community college students it is funding by 89,800 students through "workload reduction."
Last week, I was at the Academic Senate and the Student Senate and listened to a lot of discussion about the Student Success Task Force and the unfortunate budget times we are in. I heard debates on both sides of many debates--fees, mission, repeatability, tighter financial aid, and mandatory services. I appreciated the passion and the recognition that our values as community college believers are not being upheld.
Meanwhile, this week, I'll be hearing about (and being asked to respond to) why both new high school graduates (and dropouts) and retraining workers alike can't find the classes they need in their local community colleges. And, disproportionately, the folks that are getting squeezed out are the poorest and most diverse among us, and they are asking questions about some of our traditional and continuing enrollment patterns.
Of course, the answer is funding. To get back to where we should have been, the state should be funding 201,600 more full-time equivalent students, and providing a total of $2.5 billion more to community colleges each year. That would simply put us back where we were in 2000-01, and adjusted for enrollment growth.
That's the ultimate answer. And, you know how hard we fought this year to provide the continued revenue we need to meet our entire mission, and to do it competently. But, with a $2 billion likely cut to California higher education this year alone, it is going to take years to climb out of this disaster.

Meanwhile, we have a moral imperative to ration responsibly. I think back to pediatric intensive care at Children's Hospital of Orange County, where I worked while I went to Orange Coast. We have a fixed number of beds and, at times, the demand for those beds exceeded the supply. We didn't play first-come, first served, but rather asked what the mission and capabilities of the unit were, the needs of each patient, and then aligned the services with the medically neediest patients. In some cases, this delayed surgeries that could be put on hold, and at other times, other providers were sought.

Our community colleges are the intensive care unit for the economic and educational critical condition that many Californians find themselves in.
How to ration this precious state resource is a discussion that needs to happen on your campus, based on local needs, but understanding a statewide context. The question that must be asked is "Is this enrollment or program more important than providing a spot in college for a first-time college student?" I know how painful that question is, but it's the fact of life in the post-Prop. 13 statewide system that caps the enrollment at each of our colleges and limits local boards from taking steps they neeed to extend access.

We also, of course, need to ask whether we're providing students the tools and guidance necessary to get through programs as efficiently as possible. I was a wanderer at Orange Coast, taking 50% more time than necessary. If I did that today, I'd be taking away another Californian's opportunity to go to college, whether at my campus or elsewhere.
My commitment to you is to continue to fight in Sacramento and wherever we have to go to find the resources we need to get community colleges back on track. Meanwhile, I hope that you commit to having the courageous conversations necessary to get through these tough times.

Scott Lay
President and Chief Executive Officer, The League
Orange Coast College '94

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