Soapbox

A new vision for California’s community colleges

Sacramento City College President Kathryn Jeffery, center, listen to staff and students during a town hall meeting in September 2015.
Sacramento City College President Kathryn Jeffery, center, listen to staff and students during a town hall meeting in September 2015. Sacramento Bee file

There is arguably no stronger force for progress in our state than the California Community Colleges.

The largest college system in the nation is in 114 communities and serves more than 2.1 million students, nearly 40 percent the first in their family to go to college. The colleges prepare students for the jobs of today and tomorrow and provide opportunities for adults striving to earn a GED or to learn English after immigrating to this country.

It’s a big and complicated job, and we must get it right. The community college Board of Governors has adopted a vision that lays out bold goals and commitments.

It is a detailed roadmap produced with input from leading researchers, policymakers, employers, social justice advocates and everyday Californians.

Vision for Success confronts the challenges and shortcomings of community colleges. It takes too long for many students to earn a certificate or a degree, or to transfer to a UC or CSU campus. Achievement gaps that fall along race, ethnicity, age and region persist at unacceptable rates.

This new vision identifies goals that include increasing by at least 20 percent a year the number of students earning an associate degree, credential, certificate or specific skill set and increasing transfers to UC and CSU by 35 percent a year.

Other goals include:

▪ Reducing the number of unneeded classes taken by students, who typically earn 27 more units than required.

▪ Increasing students in career education programs who secure jobs in their field by 15 percent.

▪ And reducing achievement gaps by 40 percent within five years and eliminating them within 10 years.

Some may say these goals are too ambitious. We say we don’t have a choice. More and more Californians are turning to the community colleges to connect to this new economy.

The new vision focuses on students’ goals and needs, requires high expectations and support for all students, and calls for using data and evidence. We need everyone to join in this commitment and to hold the community college system accountable to transform this vision into reality.

Eloy Ortiz Oakley is chancellor of the California Community Colleges and can be contacted at eoakley@cccco.edu. Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, represents the 26th Senate District and can be contacted at senator.allen@senate.ca.gov. Jose Medina, a Riverside Democrat, is chairman of the Assembly Committee on Higher Education, represents the 61st Assembly District and can be contacted at Assemblymember.Medina@asm.ca.gov.

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