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So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Governor signs off on California community colleges reforms

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Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law Thursday that will improve student orientation, create a common assessment, and require students to maintain their grades to receive fee waivers at the California community colleges.

SB 1456, authored by Democratic state Sen. Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, provides for an intensive orientation to help students establish their educational goals, and the creation of a common assessment that would be administered to students at the start of their studies at one of the campuses.

A common assessment would allow students to take courses at more than one community college, especially as course offerings dwindle, without having to take an assessment at each one.

The law also requires students receiving the Board of Governors' fee waiver to maintain certain academic goals to continue to qualify; if they are on probation for two consecutive semesters, the students would no longer be eligible.

Colleges are required to post a student success "scorecard" indicating statistics such as certification, degree and transfer rates broken down by gender and ethnicity.

The law was the product of yearlong study by the system's 20-member Student Success Task Force. The group put together a 70-page plan that included 22 recommendations to streamline the path to student graduation, certification and transfers in the system's 112 campuses statewide. (The changes included in SB 1456 are the ones that require legislative changes, officials said.)

Earlier this month, the California Community Colleges' Board of Governors voted to adopt a major system-wide change to student enrollment that also falls under these reform efforts. The new policy, approved by the governing board at a meeting in San Diego this week, gives enrollment priority to transfer students and students working toward a degree or certificate.

California community colleges serve about 2.4 million students and constitute the world's largest system of higher education. But it has intensely felt the pressures of declining state education funding. From 2008 to 2011, community college enrollment dropped by 500,000 students, said Paige Marlatt Dorr, a system spokeswoman.

Last year, California's community colleges had to turn away 200,000 students who couldn't get into a single course, she said.

These changes are one way to better allocate the system's more limited resources, officials said. The new law goes into effect Jan. 1.

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).

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