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Perched ontop a hill there is a picteresque campus where both the young and old get together to explore higher education. People meet in the quad to discuss philosophical matters and politics. The teachers are open-minded and encourage exploration. Tuition is cheap and learning is fun. Occasionally the students protest a social injustice and the teachers endorse their freedom of expression. Students are taught to search for a career, as well as personal fulfillment; well there was that place. That was community college in the 1990s.
Fast-forward to 2012 and the community is being squeezed out of the community college system. Teachers and students alike agree college is no longer about discovery and personal enrichment. But instead about getting people into the workforce and out of campus corridors as cheaply as possible.
“I feel like I’m going to school in a factory. Everywhere I turn I hear about CTEs, or 1440s or repetition or repeatability, just a million policies which all say in essence my options to use college as a place to figure out where I am going in life are limited,” Stacey Browne, an LPC first year student, said.
“Education is now seen as something that is consumed by a small group of people and if it is not consumed in the way taxpayers want, then they’re wasting money,” said Sarah Thompson, president of LPC’s Academic Senate.
Thompson said there is no longer a buy-in that education enriches all and a highly educated public is an asset to a state.
She said it’s been broken down to a battle of dollars and cents.
“Which is ironic because we service so many more students now in higher education than we did in 1970. I mean exponentially higher and we spend exponentially less on each student than we did in the 1970s.”
“I attempted to sign up for a photography class last semester, but there was only one for beginners and it was full so early on,” Moira Gonsalves, a 50-year-old homemaker from Livermore said.
“There used to be so many more classes. So many are not offered from semester to semester and it’s mostly the personal enrichment classes that are cut. “It’s really expensive also if you don’t qualify for financial aid,” Gonsalves said.
Thompson agreed that the recent price hikes in tuition fees throughout the community college system are contrary to what the community college system set out to do many moons ago. In the last two years tuition costs have jumped from $36 per unit to $46 per unit.
“When the master plan for education was created there was a vision that all Californians would have access to free or heavily subsidized higher education. If someone takes a class on creative writing and that’s all they take but it changes them in a positive way, there was once a belief that everyone benefits from that. “
“But the climate of the state has changed significantly so that higher education is no longer seen as a right.”
The budget cuts that have plagued the California education system in the last handful of years are being pointed out as the main culprit behind the way the community college system has morphed from all inclusive to transfer student oriented.
“Although the drastic cuts that we have faced have been fairly equitable, those classes that transfer or are needed for a degree or certificate are going to take precedence over classes that aren’t required. It is sad that we have lost so many students who came to Las Positas simply for life-long learning,” Cynthia Ross, Director of Student Life, said.
But budget cuts aren’t the only predators chomping away at what community colleges are meant to be.
State mandated programs that call on colleges to reshape their academic curriculum to fulfill new California requirements such as the 1440s transfer degrees are also being called the bad guys.
As a previous Express article stated, the 1440 transfer degree is the result of the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act (SB 1440), which was signed into law in 2010.
It was the creation of specialized Associate of Arts degrees and Associate of Science degrees. Once a student completes one of these degrees, they are guaranteed admission to California State University system.
In addition to admission, students will receive priority consideration for entry into their major program.
But as schools are being mandated to change their programs to make sure at least 80 percent of their degree offerings are 1440 compatible by the end of the 2012-2013 academic year, many non transfer related classes are being neglected.
Teachers do not agree with this mandate.
During a late October Acedemic Senate meeting, several automotive tech instructors expressed disdain with the idea of classes that lead to a degree for transfer being given priority over classes that do not.
The instructors said even if automotive tech majors wanted to transfer many couldn’t, as there are no auto-tech BSc. Programs in California.
“When the Master Plan for Higher Education in California was developed many years ago, the vision of community colleges was as a place that served the entire community not just the chosen few; a place that accepted all students not just those on traditional 4-year tracks,” LaVaughn Hart, a Computer Information Systems instructor, said during the last Academic Senate meeting.
Hart and Thompson both stated that outside legislators who know nothing about what community college are supposed to do are making decisions for the schools.
“It seems that this lofty goal of providing higher education for all is being undermined by many who know little about the community college system and all the variety of students that we serve,” said Hart.
“A lot of people who come in (to community college) for retraining aren’t thinking about transfer degrees, they want a skill set to be advanced in the job they have or want to become immediately.
But we have a researcher (Nancy Shulock, Ph.D. Professor and Executive Director for the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy at C.S.U Sacramento)…the same researcher behind the Student Success Task Force influencing legislators,” said Thompson.
Even student government is all frowns about the direction community colleges are heading in.
“As the types of students that come here have evolved from self-improvement to a vast number of young students hoping to transfer, the community college make-up has evolved.
Sadly, this evolution mixed with the constant cuts has changed the available courses and has shutout those students that are here for self-improvement,” Cherry Bogue, president of the Associated Students of Las Positas College said.