Being a student at a California community college is not particularly easy right now because, bluntly put, being a community college itself is not easy.
With an unrivaled state budget crisis and the nation’s largest system of community colleges (CCs)—24% of all CC students nationwide are in the Golden State—California is facing a drastic alteration of its educational system, especially when it comes to its 112 community colleges. And given that 61% of the CC’s system is funded via the state, the uphill climb for those CCs is one of the most devastating, especially when it hits close to home.
As one of the largest institutions of its kind in the state, Long Beach City College (LBCC) is not removed from this crises. Next year, it is facing budget reductions that range from a necessary $2 million to $8.4 million in the worst-case scenario. Its student waiting list is over 15,000. With these numbers lingering, the harshest reality of all is the fact that people will be deeply affected—both personally and professionally—by the decision that LBCC must make in the coming months.
“We are serving 2,000 full-time students less than we were about three years ago,” said LBCC President Eloy Ortiz Oakley in an exclusive interview with the Post. “We’re serving less students and we haven’t changed our expenditures…[but] the reality is that our revenues are not gonna go back up to where they were three years ago so we have to adjust our operating budget to reflect the reality of our current revenues.”
The adjusting of that budget included the reduction of classified and management personnel earlier this year due to the way in which some of LBCC’s employee contracts are designed.
In addition, one of the more prominent—and contested—forms of reductions lies in making cuts on the instructional side of operations which, as Oakley pointed out, were inevitable. Those reductions include the proposed cutting—”program discontinuance”—of some 17 programs as determined by LBCC’s planning committee, which consisted of faculty, staff, and administrators.
That committee developed a guideline of criteria, set forth on September 11 of this year, on how to pick which types of programs could possibly face discontinuation. Many critics pointed out that the programs—largely vocational in nature—block working-class individuals from accessing certificates and degrees required to achieve work, such those in diesel mechanics or sheet metal.
However, Oakley insists that programs assessed for discontinuance were done so on a wide basis that went beyond just simple academic assessment (current enrollment, retention and completion rates, et cetera) but also focused on the applicability to the local workforce (evidence of employer demand and/or community need, success levels of students who have completed the program and currently working in the field, et cetera) and accessibility (similar programs at nearby colleges, ability of combining with other programs, et cetera).
According to Oakley, it is—despite public perception—a logical process.
“There is a logical process in place that allows us to critically and thoroughly examine where those programs stand… We haveto go through this process,” Oakley said. “It doesn’t mean all 17 programs will be eliminated but it does mean that those programs met the criteria that was developed jointly between the faculty leadership and the administration.”
Students wait in line to take a placement test at Long Beach City College. Photo: The Chronicle
In addition, the majority of the programs proposed for the cutting floor are vocational programs such as welding, auto mechanics, carpentry and interior design. Theses courses—taken by some 800,000 people statewide—are funded similarly to academic programs despite an enormous cost difference due to technics, equipment and supplies that exceed typical courses, adding a further blow to how programs are proposed for discontinuance.
“Let me be clear: no one here—including the Board—has any notion that any of these programs are not worthwhile and important programs,” Oakley said. “But the State of California has cut educational institutions so deeply that in order for us to adequately serve the students we have, we have to shift resources to the greatest need and the greatest opportunity for a well-rounded education.”
Part of that shift in resources was altering their requirements for entry into non-remedial English and math courses—two subjects of the highest need and enrollment at LBCC. Instead of depending on placement tests—of which some students fail even though they successfully passed their high school course—for entry, students who successfully passed their high school English or math courses will be immediately permitted into college-level courses.
Given that some 85% of CC students are assigned to remedial English and 73% to remedial math—oftentimes based on such placement tests which don’t effectively measure a student’s performance—it is the hopes that a reduction in remedial education will also reduce costs.
The “shift in resources” that Oakley continuously referred to remains focused on one thing: the success of the student.
“We must have a program that allows our students be gainfully employed in the future that provides them a livable wage with jobs that are currently in the L.A. County area,” he says. “There are some who may argue that there are jobs from the programs we are reviewing, but those jobs may not be in the greater L.A. County area—and our mission is to serve [this] area and, more broadly, California.”
Should revenue continue to fall under expectations and should Prop 30 fail, the college plans on discussing contingency measures—much like those recently passed by the Board of Trustees at the California State University—to fight against such shortfalls.
“It is both humorous and sad that people would think we’re in a smoky room disenfranchising students,” Oakley said gravely. “There is nobody here who wakes up in the morning and looks forward to coming in and peeling back opportunities for students. At the end of the day, I’m expected to provide the greatest opportunity for the greatest number of students. And until the State of California finally decides to right its priorities, we are going to continue to find ways to shift our resources to the greatest areas of demand.”