Eloy Oakley on stage with Academic Senate President Karen Kane before delivering his speech.
Superintendent-President Eloy Oakley delivered the annual State of the College address today to a packed gymnasium, with his speech painting, if not a rosy portrait of the college’s future, certainly a promising one.
Oakley announced that this Spring term, which starts Monday, Long Beach City College (LBCC) will offer more classes it has in the previous five years. And to go along with the new class offerings, the college has hired 53 full-time faculty members, the most the school has hired in a single year in its history. The expansion of course offerings and hirings—the college intends to add more this fall—aren’t quite at pre-recession levels, but Oakley and other leaders at the college are cautiously optimistic that the worst of times are in the past.
“We’re still down from where we were in 2007,” Oakley said. “It was sort of our peak year when the recession hit. I think by next year we’ll be back at those 2007 levels, but this year we’ve definitely been able to add a lot more classes and hopefully the budget allows for us to get back to where we were in 2007 and even grow beyond that.
Growth has been evident, both at the school’s Pacific Coast Campus (PCC) and its Liberal Arts Campus (LAC). The college is two-thirds of the way through a 15-year modernization program that is infusing $616 million dollars into the college through funds from voter-approved Measure E bonds. Oakley said the improvements, which seem to be happening nearly every month, are transforming the college and the changes, in particular at PCC, are a “visible symbol” of the school’s commitment to incorporating underrepresented students and communities.
“It’s an area where far too often, the zip code you’re born into dictates your life,” Oakley said. “But we plan to change that equation through education.”
Just last week the school broke ground on new buildings at PCC that will house administrative and workforce development offices and new laboratory space for students. And in July, the project for a new 31,600 square foot student services building was undertaken at PCC.
According to Oakley, the improvements to the facilities help the students and faculty better engage each other, making it easier for both to be successful. The improved technologies, like the renovated nursing building that the college broke ground on last October, will help students be better prepared for life after college. After completion, students in the program will have access to a “simulated hospital” that includes dummies that have pulses and recreate signs of stress, which will mimic real-world conditions where life-and-death decisions are made.
“You can feel that change is in the air here at Long Beach City College,” Oakley said.
Noting that progress can’t be measured in new buildings, Oakley turned to the topic of completion rates, calling on administrators, teachers and the trustees to make improving it a top priority going forward. Currently, the school’s model is based off a 6-year completion window used by many schools both in California and nationwide. The number, which for LBCC sits at 42 percent, represents the number of students that receive an AA or AS degree or complete a certificate. The number falls precipitously when measured at four years (27 percent) and two years (5 percent). Oakley called for a change in culture and the urgency with which students are pushed through LBCC.
“But I ask all of you here today, is six years really acceptable for getting through community college?” Oakley asked. “For finishing what used to be called a 2-year degree?"
"This is not going to be easy; this is actually going to be pretty hard," he said. "Many institutional and regulatory barriers exist. It’s going to take a lot of big changes and it’s going to take courage. But the status quo is simply unacceptable.”
To do this, he said there’s been an emphasis on changing how classes are being scheduled and how often they’re offered. The increase in faculty will allow the school to offer sessions four times a year (Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter) and make an effort to align courses so students can take them when they need them and get out of school as soon as possible. Oakely pressed for the campus to move to a four-year model, then eventually a three-year model of how they measure their completion rate.
“This will really tell us, and our community, how successful we are in moving students through the system,” Oakley said.
Another way the college is helping expedite graduations is through programs like the Long Beach College Promise—Oakley and other educational leaders presented the LBCP at the White House shortly before President Obama’s unveiling of the America’s College Promise program—and the recently-implemented Promise Pathways program. Promise Pathways helps ensure that high school students enter LBCC at the appropriate class levels, despite what an entrance exam might reflect. Because of its effectiveness, Oakley was recognized with the 2014 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award, an award given for advancing educational and economic prospects for low-income Californians.
Lin Ouk, a first-generation American of Cambodian descent benefitted from this program. Ouk, who is now a student at Cal State Long Beach, was placed in remedial math and english classes despite excelling at the high school level. The Promise Pathway program took her grades into account and allowed Ouk to forgo the remediation, allowing her to transfer an entire semester early. It also saved her money, which at the current rate of $46 per unit could’ve amounted to several hundred dollars, not including the cost of books.
“I was glad I was placed in those regular classes instead of the remedial because I actually got to graduate earlier than I was expected,” Ouk said. “I’m at Cal State Long Beach now and going forward.”
Former president of the board of trustees and current 7th District Councilman Roberto Uranga said that the school is headed in the right direction. Uranga recounted some of the obstacles and tough decisions the board was forced to make while he was at the helm, in particular, the discontinuance of some vocational programs. He said the decisions were painful at the time, but now that the college is turning the corner and seemingly back on the right track, they were the correct ones.
“Classes are coming back, a lot more offerings are being made available, so we’re in a good way,” Uranga said. “And what’s interesting about that is right now, there are community colleges up and down the state that are having the same problems that we had three or four years ago and now they’re going to have to start making some tough decisions. Decisions that we already went through. So we’re ahead of the game in that respect. We’re not dealing with those issues that they are now.”
Inside the Hall of Champions Gymnasium during the State of the College.
Being in a good way is contingent on the State’s budget, which according to Oakley, is the best the college has seen in years. Governor Jerry Brown released those numbers last month, reflecting a dedication to paying back some of the money that were “borrowed” from the community college system due to deficits over the past 12 years. The Governor’s budget proposes to give back over $700 million to each of the three college systems to maintenance their campuses, provided that tuition remains flat. It would also “repay” nearly one billion dollars to schools that the state borrowed from, including community colleges, in an effort to offset debts and eliminate any future borrowing from the educational system.
However, noting that this is California, Oakley said that “it doesn’t mean our budget troubles are over,” and he pledged to continue to be a “responsible and transparent" steward of the school's funding.
The Superintendent-President’s speech conveyed a tale of hope that budget cuts that forced the cuts of programs and layoffs of teachers are behind them. But it was also realistic in pointing out that just because the budget is good today, doesn’t mean that it will be that way forever. There’s still work to be done, but compared to when Oakley took over the seat he currently occupies, the college is in a better place.
“We have laid the groundwork, the groundwork for a state-of-the-art college that will serve the needs of this community well into the 21st century,” Oakley said in his closing statement. “And we must continue to evolve to meet those needs. This is not a destination, this is a journey of continuous improvement.”