California Community Colleges
California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Oakley

The legislative season may be over, but California’s community colleges are already looking to next year’s state spending debates as they seek an additional $382 million from Sacramento on top of the $8.6 billion they currently receive.

The Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges Monday approved the 2018-19 budget, which would increase state spending on the system by about 4 percent. System chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley now must persuade the Legislature and the governor to include the funds in the state’s 2018-19 budget.

The budget request reflects the college system’s plans to have more of its 2.3 million students complete associate’s degrees and transfer to a four-year university. This spring the board voted to approve the roadmap that in five years would increase by 35 percent the number of students who transfer to a Cal State or UC. It also aims over the next decade to close the completion gap among racial and ethnic groups.

The system hopes to use the money to add hundreds of full-time faculty members to its 114 colleges and beef up various student support programs.

The plan, known as Vision for Success, includes other goals to boost student achievement. While adopted by the board of governors, individual colleges have discretion on following the plan.

If Gov. Brown and the Legislature approve the 2018-19 budget, total funding for the California community college system will go up to about $9 billion, said Laura Metune, vice chancellor of external relations. That total includes increases to account for student enrollment growth and the cost of goods and services the system purchases and excludes programs that were only funded for this year.

Much of the proposed budget’s increased spending will be devoted to bring the vision plan to life. The system has its work cut out: In 2016 just 48 percent of students who enrolled at a California community college left with a degree, certificate, or transferred after six years. “Older and working adults are too often left behind due to a lack of supports and programming that serves adults who must also balance work, childcare and household demands,” the budget document reads.

Some aspects of student support the budget cannot tackle. While the fees for a full-time student ranges from $1,100 to $1,400 a year, students must still pay rent and other living costs. The budget document noted that while two-thirds of California’s students attend community colleges, those students receive about 6 percent of the money spent through the state’s college grant program called Cal Grant.

The biggest requested increase to the 2018-19 budget is growing the base funding the system receives by $200 million. Unlike other funding sources, base funding dollars are unrestricted, allowing “colleges to enhance local programming and address regional and community needs,” the budget summary said.

The system is also requesting $75 million to hire approximately 800 additional full-time faculty and $25 million to bring on part-time faculty. Mario Rodriguez, vice chancellor for college finance and facilities planning, said growing the number of faculty staff will help the system’s colleges meet the goal of transferring more students to a UC or Cal State.

The budget also allows the chancellor’s office to merge several large spending programs designed to improve student success — the Basic Skills Initiative, Student Success and Support Program, and Student Equity Program. The move is expected to give colleges more flexibility with how to assist struggling students.

The board also approved a request to seek $25 million for the creation of a program that incentivizes community colleges to offer students more guidance on which courses to take and how to fill out financial aid forms to encourage a college-going culture. The move mirrors a bill passed by the Legislature that would allow any student regardless of income to have a free year of community college if the community college they attend adopts these reforms. The bill awaits the governor’s signature. The proposed changes, known as College Promise programs, have taken off in numerous colleges across the state and U.S.

To that end, the California Community Colleges is proposing to change the name of the Board of Governors fee waiver that results in no tuition for 43 percent of the system’s students who are low-income. Instead, Oakley wants to adopt  “California College Promise Grant”  as a name that is more easily marketed to students.  A survey conducted by the chancellor’s office of the California Community Colleges found that only a quarter of high school students know about the fee waiver. The board is expected to approve this change Tuesday.

Some trustees expressed concern that the budget did not include specific line items for mental health and other student services. “There’s been money … in higher education focused on specific demographics of students,” said Oakley. “There’s been little evidence that that money has made any forward progress in the success of those students.”

He added:“What we’d like to do is translate a budget into holding colleges accountable for the $8.6 billion that they have in support of every student on their campus.”

In addition to the formal budget, board members urged Oakley to look at persuading the Legislature for money to support mental health, campus safety and security and veterans resource centers.

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