Student Success Bill revamps Community Colleges in California

Rashad Muhammad, Opinion Editor

California Community Colleges are in the midst of an educational overhaul within student development departments.

The renovation of student services will drastically alter the educational routes of current and potential students attending community colleges. This is due to the enactment of the Student Success Act of 2012. On Sept. 28, 2012, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Student Success Act of 2012, or Senate Bill 1456, into law. The Student Success Act now requires California Community Colleges to adopt a new funding formula.

According to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, this new formula includes, but isn’t limited to, three specific elements: “the students to be served; students who received orientation, assessment, counseling/advising, and student education planning services; and a match requirement.” The Student Success Task Force (SSTF) initially presented this bill to the Board of Governors.  This Task Force was created through the ratification of Senate Bill 1143. It is affectionately known as the “Liu Bill” since Democratic politician and former member of the State Assembly of California, Carol Liu, presented it.

Originally the Liu bill was marked by controversy when it suggested the idea of performance based funding.

“It was a controversial bill because the regular community college funding formula would be changed into performance based funding,” said Vice President of Student Services Julianna Barnes. “So instead of being funded by who is coming in, we would be funded by who is coming out.”

The Liu Bill also “required the Board of Governors to adopt a plan for promoting and improving student success and establish a Student Success Task Force,” the CCCCO reports.

The goal of the Task Force was to examine “best practices” promoting and advocating for the overall success of students.

They were also responsible for presenting a list of “recommendations” after analyzing specific methods of success. Some of these recommendations were simply suggested while others became law.

The list provided by the SSTF included 22 recommendations with 8 of them considered “focus areas”.

Mesa College is primarily focusing on three elements of these recommendations.

“There are three core areas that we are looking to implement,” said Barnes. “Participation in assessment testing, participation in orientation, and participation in educational planning” are the primary focus of Mesa at this time.

Barnes and other members involved have come up with a way to reward students who participate in these programs.

“The way we’re incentivizing this is by giving priority registration to the students who participate in these programs,” Barnes said. “Some colleges are even blocking enrollment until students participate in these services.”

After these services are fully implemented, students who choose not to participate won’t qualify for enrollment priority and will be hard pressed to find classes that fit their schedules if they find any available classes at all.

The Student Success Act of 2012 has been raved and acclaimed in most scholastic circles. The concept of the bill tackles an education system that has been marred by under-development and a lack of direction.

Susan Topham, Dean of Student Development, agrees with the overall concept of this measure.

“I soundly believe that the purpose of the bill is to help student with achieving their goals,” Topham said. “I think it is a refocusing and a repurposing of what we are currently doing.”

An underlying focus of the bill is to decrease the number of “career” college students and to increase the number of graduates and transfers. This enactment focuses on potential career goals as well educational desires.

“The overall purpose of the bill is about student success and that ties into increasing the number of degrees that we’re awarding, increasing the number of certificates, and increasing the number of transfer rates, ” said Topham.

Similar to Topham’s beliefs, Barnes suggests that students who accumulate many units and hours on campus are effectively falling short of the overall goal.

“If students spend a lot of time here, they don’t necessarily get to the finish line,” she says.

Scott Shouse, ASG senator, acknowledges the need for educational planning and assessment testing. His personal experiences helped him to appreciate the advantages of these services.

“I was without an Ed Plan and counseling for the first year and a half that I went to community college and I took a bunch of classes I didn’t need for my major,” Shouse said. “A lot of college students come in unprepared and unaware so I think they should focus on making sure students know what classes they should and shouldn’t take.”

The student success act has many advantages but the enactment suffers some drawbacks and fails to financially support full implementation.

The major problem this act suffers is lack of funding. As it currently stands, there are proposals shifting through legislation but many colleges haven’t discovered any new money respectively.

“At this point we don’t see any new money and it’s unclear if we’re going to get any money behind the new success act, but we’re hopeful because of the support behind it,” Barnes said.

In order for this success act to ultimately succeed, more counselors and service employees have to be hired, Barnes said.

Mesa College currently has 17 contract counselors to consult and guide almost 34,000 students. This means that the counselor-to-student ratio is about one counselor for every 2,000 students.

“We need more money,” said Barnes. “Even though there is a lot of advocacy behind this, it remains to be seen whether or not there is going to be enough dollars to support these new regulations.”

Without funding this student act will fall short of expectations and ultimately defuse every positive aspect of this legislation.

Some provisions of the new funding formula punish students who fall short of academic expectations.

According to the CCCCO, “A student may lose enrollment priority or their BOG Fee Waiver for poor academic performance.”

The student success act also requires each campus to post a “score card”.

“Each campus score card will highlight a select number of metrics that show student progress in meeting goals. The score card will also be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, age, and gender,” according to the CCCCO.

What the score card fails to include are any socioeconomic factors of the students on each respective campus.

Additionally, this new piece of legislation lacks conspicuous and purposeful advertisement.

Legislatures and faculty members have discussed it for years but the people primarily affected are largely unaware of these new recommendations and services.

“I barely know it and I would assume most students don’t either,” said ASG Senator Shouse. “I would advocate for better advertisement and awareness of how this legislation impacts the students.”

There is a listed timeline posted on the Chancellors Office’s website that indicates how specific regulations and recommendations will gradually be implemented throughout the next few years.

“This year and next year are what we consider the planning phases,” Barnes said. “The full implementation has to take place by the 2015-2016 school year even though some elements will be in effect before then.”