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Community Colleges

Rationalizing Rationing

California schools may need to do less with less
University Business, Feb 2012

Community colleges have historically done more with less. Perhaps it’s inevitable they would eventually have to start doing less with less. Proposed changes in California may indicate that shift.

In mid-January, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors endorsed policies proposed by a statewide task force that would put more of an emphasis on student completion and serving students with defined academic goals. Recommendations give priority, in registration and class availability, to students seeking degrees and certificates. Also on the chopping block are free enrichment classes.

The report states that “altering enrollment prioritization is an efficient way of encouraging successful student behaviors and ensuring that we are rationing classes to provide more students with the opportunity to succeed.” The word choice “rationing” has raised eyebrows of some faculty, students, and administrators.

It could be a while before any changes are actually seen since the state legislature has to review the proposals and, in some cases, amend existing codes.
If creating more degree-holding adults is the goal, concentrating resources on focused students can’t hurt. According to the report, “Sense of Direction: The Importance of Helping Community College students Select and Enter a Program of Study,” released in November 2011 by The Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy, students who entered a program of study (completing nine college-level semester credits in one programmatic area) in their first year of college were “nearly twice as likely to complete a certificate or degree or to transfer as students who entered a program after the first year.”

But completion matters little if students have trouble transferring to a four-year institution. Many states are making progress in implementing statewide articulation agreements and clarifying the process in other ways. To make transferring smoother for students, it’s important to move from an institution-to-institution model to a statewide model, says Nancy Shulock, executive director of IHELP. The first piece of the puzzle is having a set of lower division general education classes that will all be accepted at any institution, she says. The second piece, which is more difficult, is to get lower-division major preparation classes aligned across the state so students can enter four-year schools as juniors. This prevents students from needing to repeat classes at their upper division school, saving both time and money. The best way to do that, she says, is to get faculty groups together so they can hammer out the details.

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