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Governor signs off on California community colleges reforms

California University Cuts

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott told lawmakers that budget cuts to the community colleges have increased class size and made it more difficult for students to get into classes while appearing before a joint legislative hearing at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Dec. 7, 2009. A new law Gov. Jerry Brown signed Thursday will help address that.

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.

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Community college board prioritizes registering new, continuing students

Jack Scott, California Community Colleges

Tami Abdollah / KPCC

California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott talks about the impact of the state's budget crisis on the nation's largest higher education system. Scott has championed the effort to streamline the path to student graduation, certification and transfer.

When it came time to enroll for his community college courses for this year, Rich Copenhagen didn't have the money. So, like many students, he waited. By the time he could enroll, he was "wait-listed" - on the list of students who might get into the class if someone drops.

"It was a little bit terrifying when I was trying to register for classes," said Copenhagen, 22, who is president of the Student Senate for the California Community Colleges. "Everything has got the yellow warning sign that it’s 'wait-listed' and everything else is closed."

Copenhagen got his classes, but many students don't.

After repeated rounds of state budget cuts, colleges have had to reduce course offerings - shutting out more students.

In the academic years 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 could't get into a single course, she said.

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Measure to improve student success at California Community Colleges clears hurdle

Jack Scott, California Community Colleges

Tami Abdollah / KPCC

A measure to streamline the path to graduation, certification and transfers moves to the governor's desk for signature or veto. California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott has championed SB 1456.

California legislators voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure Thursday that aims to streamline the path to student graduation, certification and transfers in the California Community Colleges.

The 36 to 1 concurrence vote in the state Senate means that SB 1456 now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown who has 30 days to sign or veto the measure. The bill, authored by Democratic state Sen. Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, is one result of a year-long study by the 20-member Student Success Task Force. The group put together a 70-page plan that included 22 recommendations of reform. (The changes included in SB 1456 are the ones that require legislative changes, officials said.)

"We were very concerned about the fact that a lot of the students who got into community colleges, either they didn't get a certificate or degree, or didn't transfer," said system Chancellor Jack Scott. "And so we began to look at ways to ensure greater student success...This bill is a start of that."

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California Community Colleges system looks at prioritizing new or continuing students

Jack Scott, California Community Colleges

Tami Abdollah / KPCC

California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott talks about the impact of the state's budget crisis on the nation's largest higher education system.

The governing board of the California Community Colleges is considering a major system-wide change to how its 112 campuses enroll students that would prioritize those working toward a degree, certificate or transferring, over avocational or hobbyist students.

The proposal, which was presented to the Board of Governors today, would be a significant departure from the open enrollment, "all-comers" philosophy of the world's largest system of higher education. The system serves about 2.6 million students at 112 campuses statewide.

But officials said severe cuts to state funding over the last few years have forced the system to reduce its course offerings and turn "hundreds of thousands of students" away.

"We cannot provide the funding to be all things to all comers that we used to do," said Paul Feist, a spokesman for the California Community Colleges' Chancellor's Office.

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California Community Colleges wants your thoughts on possible new course policy

Students holding placards try to attract

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Students protest education cuts in California.

The California Community Colleges governing board discussed today the possibility of a a system-wide policy change that would limit students from repeating certain courses they have been successfully completed.

The change is part of an effort to better allocate already meager state funds after years of severe budget cuts and allow more students the opportunity to take courses that will help them graduate, gain a certificate, or transfer, according to system spokesman Paul Feist.

The board will be accepting public comment for 45 days. Input can be emailed to regcomments@cccco.edu or faxed to 916-322-9030 by 5 p.m. June 15.

The Board of Governors will hear the second reading of the proposed policy and vote on it in July. If it passes it will go into effect for fall 2013.

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

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