Tuesday, September 19, 2006

California's Hemorrhaging Educational Pipeline

In a May 2004 online report entitled "Ensuring Access with Quality to California's Community Colleges," it is stated that the California Community Colleges have "eroded substantially" and have not lived up to the promises envisioned by the state's 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education. In fact, "California’s 1960 promise of opportunity has become problematic." There are seven concerns that California Community Colleges face, three of which are highlighted below:

Poor preparation.
Many college students and prospective college students are inadequately prepared for college-level academic work.

Hemorrhaging educational pipeline.
In California, for every 100 ninth graders, 70 graduate from high school four years later; of these 70 graduates, 37 enroll in college; of the 37 who enter college, 25 are still enrolled in the sophomore year; and of these 25, 19 graduate with an associate’s degree within three years or a bachelor’s degree within six years. California’s production of baccalaureate degrees falls well below the leading states.

State budgetary difficulties.
The state government is in financial crisis. For the first time in its modern history, California simultaneously faces unprecedented demands for higher education enrollment and declining state financial resources.

Additionally, "a set of perennial weaknesses plague California education" including few incentives, little accountability, unacceptable transfer rates to four-year colleges, inadequate preparation for college, and "chronic underfunding" of California community colleges. A "policy vacuum" of failed strategic planning has only exasperated these problems. The community colleges are additionally burdened by "cookie cutter" uniformity, governmental regulations and statutes, and "shackled by the conditions of categorical funding." As it stands, California ranks 36th among the 50 states "in the ratio of baccalaureate degrees awarded compared to high school graduates six years earlier" and "46th in the number of baccalaureate degrees awarded per 100 undergraduates."

Sadly, our governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is himself the result of the California community college system, having graduated from Santa Monica Community College. Since he's taken office, he's struggled in what the report describes as "a budget crisis of unprecedented magnitude." Our state's deficit is allegedly the largest in the nation. While our enrollment fees have been increased dramatically, our budget for community college education has been slashed considerably. As expected, enrollment has dropped across the board. The report offers this frightening bit of information:

The combination of increased fees and reduction in overall funding is unprecedented. In the two periods in California history in which the state faced a financial crisis, from 1981 to 1984 and from 1991 to 1995, student enrollment dropped by 296,000 students and 179,000 students respectively. In neither of those situations were the fee increases as great nor were the reductions in state funding nearly so dramatic. The chancellor’s office estimated a reduction in enrollment of 146,000 in fall 2003.

The report offers some suggestions for improvement, including a bridge between K-12 and community colleges as well as between community colleges and four-year colleges and universities. However, the report is not optimistic in the least, stating that state legislature is more intent on maintaining the status quo than answering our pressing needs. The California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) is described as "California’s relatively weak coordinating body."

Apparently, there have been calls for the abolishment of local boards of trustees, such as the one in charge of Santa Monica College. Although our college engages in what is referred to as "shared governance," this glorified system is in fact "too cumbersome" with an administration that is "not collaborative enough." Finally, the funding mechanism is breaking down, with extremely low funding for FTES (full-time equivalent students) and the inability to generate local sources of revenue due to Proposition 13. The transfer programs are described as "uncoordinated," "redundant" and "expensive." Unfortunately, with the state's enrollment cap in place, there exists more hiring of inaccessible part-time faculty and unfunded FTES that "lowers the average revenue generated per student." The report makes clear the following:

The combination of inadequate levels of funding and support for insufficient numbers of FTE students has resulted in a situation in which colleges are forced to compromise both quality and access. In the "absence" of "real leadership" from then Governor Gray Davis and the Legislature, there seems to be no easy solution to fix this very severe problem. The old enrollment driven model of funding only leads to unpredictability in the annual budget. Budget cuts in turn lead to low morale across the board as programs and services can be cut out from under a student.

Finally, how does Santa Monica College truly compare in its overall course completion? According to the SANTA MONICA COLLEGE STUDENT EQUITY REPORT for Spring 2005, here are some rather depressing statistics:

Overall Course Completion:
- Success Rates for ‘92=67.5%, ‘97=65%, ‘02=69%.
- In ten year period overall student success has improved by an average of 1.5% .
- African American and Latino student success rates are significantly lower than average.

ESL/Basic Skills Course Completion:
- Success Rates for ‘92=62.4%, ‘97=56.5%, ‘02=55.7%.
- In ten year period overall success rates have decreased by 6.7%.
- Latino student success is lower than the average.
- African American student success is significantly lower than average.

Vocational Course Completion:
- Success Rates for ‘92=66.8%, ‘97=64.9%, ‘02=77.3%.
- In ten year period overall student success has improved by an average of 10.5%.
- Latino student success is slightly lower than average.
- African American students is significantly lower than average.

Transfer Course Completion:
- Success Rates for ‘92=68.3%, ‘97=66.4%, ‘02=69.8%.
- In ten year period overall student success has improved by an average of 1.5%.
- Latino student success rate slightly lower (62.9%).
- African American student success significantly lower (58%).

AA Degree Completion:
- Slight decrease in awards for male students in 10 year period.
- African American and Asian students have a decrease in awards in 10 year period.

Certificate Completion:
- Significantly lower levels of certificates were awarded to females.
- All students except for Native American and Unknown category had a decrease in awards in 10 year period.
- All have a significantly lower award level than overall student population.

Equal Employment Opportunity:
- Full-Time and Part-Time White faculty is overrepresented compared to student population while Full-Time and Part-Time Asian and Latino faculty are underrepresented compared to student population.

According to our new president, Chui L. Tsang, "Santa Monica College has the highest transfer rates to the UC campuses in all of the California Community Colleges,” says Tsang. "Santa Monica College is a very prestigious transfer institution with a strong international education focus." But the statistics above do not paint the rosy picture that Tsang presents. Keep in mind that the Latino college age population in Los Angeles County is growing substantially. Given the problems statewide with the budget cuts, increased enrollment, and failure to provide the appropriate education and criteria for transfer, and Santa Monica College is not keeping its promises to serve its Latino and African-American student community. According to SMC Board of Trustees Chair Carole Currey, "We were particularly impressed with Dr. Tsang’s perspicacity and sense of humor." Unfortunately, the joke is on the students.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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