The urgency with which Gov. Jerry Brown, the Legislature and Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz-Oakley are moving to invest in and transform community colleges to better serve students is long overdue.
California community colleges are bastions of hope and opportunity for over 2.1 million students, three-fourths of whom are students of color, the majority of whom qualify for the California Promise grant and pay no fees. They bring their dreams of being the first in their families to go to college and earn a degree, certificate or transfer.
Unfortunately, too many of these talented students arrive at our community colleges and are met with practices that make it difficult to succeed. If they’re lucky, they secure a 30-minute appointment with a counselor who puts them on a clear pathway toward their goal. But, like winning the lottery, this prospect is slim.
Instead, it’s more likely students will be placed in remedial courses that have proven unsuccessful at moving students into college-level courses. They will have to figure out a pathway to a degree or transfer on their own, which will include taking classes that don’t add up to a degree or count toward transfer. They won’t find the kind of support services that encourage their dreams instead of dashing them.
That’s why fewer than half of community college students graduate after six years and for Black or Latino students, its only 36 percent and 41 percent, respectively.
Unless colleges become more student-focused in their practices, education will not be the great equalizer we all expect.
Last year, Chancellor Oakley introduced a bold Vision for Success that outlines ambitious goals for improving college completion rates including increasing the number of transfer students to the University of California or California State University by 35 percent annually.
Under Gov. Brown, the state has invested heavily in community colleges to expand enrollment, improve transfer, improve remedial education and develop Guided Pathways for students that offer clarity and supports students need to reach their goals.
The legislature has supported these reforms and investments and last year boldly passed AB 705, historic legislation to dismantle a broken remedial education process that prevents too many students from enrolling in college-level courses.
This year the governor has proposed a new student-centered funding formula that for the first time communicates our collective interest in both enrolling students and graduating them.
Community colleges are center stage and major investments have come with a demand to improve outcomes.
These funding and policy changes may feel overwhelming to our dedicated college leaders and faculty, and pressure to slow down is building up. But improving how we serve students is long overdue and our neediest students don’t have the luxury of waiting for our colleges to get it right. For them, delays in earning their degrees or transferring puts them in a predicament — can they afford to keep working towards that college degree, or do they give up, stay in a low-paying job with few prospects of moving into the middle class?
Gov. Brown, this Legislature and Chancellor Oakley understand the urgency of acting now. Their courageous leadership will ensure that California students benefit from the opportunities a college education provides and help preserve our spot as the 5th strongest economy in the world.
Together, these efforts have the potential to be transformative for millions of students and that is why many students, civil rights, business and education leaders across the state stand behind them. We will not accept a status quo that is failing to serve our students and our economy.
Michele Siqueiros is the president of the Campaign for College Opportunity.
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