The Basic Skills Initiative-What We've Done, What's up Next

Barbara Illowsky, Past Basic Skills Initiative Director

"What's happening with BSI funds?" Lately, that is the question I am asked most often about the Basic Skills Initiative. Fortunately, it is an easy (and happy) question to answer. As of press time, the $33.1 million Basic Skills Initiative categorical funds are still in the budgets-both the current and next year's proposed budgets. I do not know the reason(s), but I suspect it is because 1) the high number of adults with basic skills needs is still a major problem in California; 2) more and more careers requiring an associates degree need employees with the critical thinking, reading, writing, ESL and mathematics skills that the BSI addresses; and 3) the Basic Skills Initiative is one of the most successful initiatives the California community college system has undertaken!

This article discusses BSI activities from January 2008 to the present, along with a peek into the next stage of the BSI. To refresh your memory, in February 2007, the Chancellor's Office funded the literature review Basic Skills as a Foundation for Success in California Community Colleges. The rest of 2007, the Project (led by the Academic Senate) provided workshops throughout the state on the contents of the literature review, focusing on the 26 Effective Practices identified, helping colleges with their Self-Assessments and preparing their Action Plans. A website was also developed ( to provide resources for colleges.

Building on the work in 2007, the Senate has undertaken the following activities:

Spring 2008:
Working with the System Office, Senate representatives have begun recoding of basic skills level courses submitted by colleges. According to faculty reviewing the System Office records, there are numerous inaccuracies from the colleges. Discipline faculty, with support from System Office Vice Chancellors Patrick Perry and Carole Bogue-Feinour, created a draft of discipline-specific rubrics that indicate the number and description of courses below transfer level. The rubrics describe appropriate coding for basic skills levels. The purpose of the rubrics is to provide curricular information that creates a better coding system and a more accurate picture of student success and progression. The draft guidelines about development and use of the CB21 rubrics are at:

The Project held seven regional meetings in the North and South in May and June. The regional meetings were attended by almost every California community college. Close to 1,000 faculty, administrators and staff participated in these two-day events, which covered institutional, counseling, and pedagogical methods. During these two days, strategies and techniques that can apply to classrooms and other student interactions were presented.

The Student Equity Plans for all community colleges-where available-were reviewed, analyzed, and presented at all regional meetings. During the presentation, the Student Equity Plans, Accountability for Community Colleges (ARCC) report, and the college's action plan were provided to each college in attendance.

Summer 2008:
The Project held a statewide Summer Teaching Institute, August 10-13, 2008. Over 300 faculty attended the free (including travel, room, board and fees) conference. The institute was open to teams of faculty from each college attending, with one full-time and four part-time faculty members on each team. The training concentrated on teaching pedagogy. Participants received hands-on training that could be implemented right away, creating products and lessons to employ in their classes for fall. The needs of Career Technical Education (CTE) programs were integrated into the entire institute. The Summer Teaching Institute addressed issues raised in the spring regional meetings concerning incorporating and training part-time faculty who teach a large portion of the basic skills courses.

Fall 2008:
Basic Skills Coordinators two-day meetings: These meetings included the role of the basic skills coordinator, developing action plans in a shared governance format, staff development, buy-in from faculty and administration, linking to K-12 outcomes, and sharing of challenges and programs. Adjunct and noncredit issues were integral to the discussions.

BSI Innovation Incubation-Integrating Instruction and Support Services: One two-day meeting was held, consisting of counselors, instructors and support staff. The goal of the conference was to encourage a productive dialog among instructional and counseling faculty toward the creation of new models of collaboration that would better meet the needs of students who struggle with the academic and social transition to college.

Theory and Practice (CTE): Two-day meetings were held with the majority of attendees being those who teach basic skills level courses. These workshops addressed both the theory and practice of working with students with basic skills needs in career courses that all faculty could immediately apply to their classes.

Basic Skills Faculty-From Here to There: Plotting a Path through the Basic Skills Curriculum and Creating an Accurate Picture of Student Success in Basic Skills: Much of this regional meeting is described in the section above about the rubrics. In addition, activities of the two-day meeting provided background information, researched by discipline experts, about course content, course descriptors, exit competencies, and standards.

Other activities:
The RP Group is working on three papers: (1) a literature review to scan the United States for effective practices used to improve the transition of student from high school to college, (2) an adult education to college transition paper, and (3) a student equity paper. These papers will be completed this spring and available on the BSI web site, distributed at Fall Plenary, and sent to colleges.

The Project has formed an intersegmental group under the Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates (ICAS) comprised of UC, CSU, CCC, and high school representatives to review (and revise as necessary) the mathematics competency statements. Several of the representatives in the group were also involved in the original development of the 1993 mathematics competency statements. This intersegmental group will publish a new version of the competency statements.

Other resources developed to help colleges include the "Basic Skills Handbook" (check out this useful handbook on the BSI web site), articles in iJournal and the Rostrum, a chapter in a Jossey-Bass New Directions for Community Colleges book, a paper titled "A Comparison of Basic Skills Success Rates and Basic Skills Action Planning: Strategies in the California Community Colleges," and newsletters. In addition, focus groups on non-credit faculty were convened to discuss issues relating to basic skills level non-credit students and programs. A paper of those findings is under development.

And, of course, BSI presentations and workshops were held as part of various other conferences or at colleges requesting them.

2009 and beyond:
Are you exhausted yet? No? Well, here is a tiny preview into 2009 and beyond BSI activities. By the time you are reading this article, non-credit and CTE workshops may have already taken place. These workshops extend the BSI activities into much needed, and often, lower funded and less acknowledged programs. The next phase of BSI activities will be coordinated by the Los Angeles Community College District, with Dean Deborah Harrington as the project director. They include a Summer Leadership Institute to train college BSI leaders in innovation, motivation and implementation and the creation of a permanent Professional Learning Network among our 110 Colleges and a CCC Center for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Other activities include developing a system of regional networks, including collaborative projects/programs that support faculty addressing basic skills students, increasing local capacity to use evidence to assess student and program progress, and expanding the pilot virtual network in partnership with California Educational Technology Collaborative (CETC) and the Academic Senate. And, of course, the Academic Senate will continue to provide BSI workshops. More information about upcoming BSI activities will be sent out to the local academic senate presidents and posted on the BSI web site.

In short, the Basic Skills Initiative is alive and well because we are all working together for its continued health. Let's keep it that way!

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.