Community Services Course Approval: Should Senates Have a Role?

Curriculum Committee Chair
Curriculum Committee Member

Have you ever watched a romantic comedy where two lonely individuals meet at a community center art class? As the movie unfolds, love blossoms over shared paint palettes and muddy water. Hilarity ensues as the individuals must overcome obstacles, real or imagined, to the relationship, but nothing will keep the fated lovers apart, and in the end love conquers all. You might think that you too should take an art class; it will allow you to explore your untapped creativity, and you never know whom you might meet. If you decide to take a class, odds are good that you will not need to look far: your college probably offers a class just like the one in the movie.

Most of our colleges offer community services classes designed to satisfy various community needs where college credit is not awarded. Title 5 §55002(d) establishes the criteria for these courses. The criteria are rather general, so the offerings may be broad. When establishing these types of courses at a college, the primary requirements are that the local governing board must approve all community services offerings, a college cannot collect apportionment for these courses, and the student pays the entire cost of instruction. As long as these criteria are met, your college can offer nearly anything through community services where there is demand.

Community services courses provide colleges with a great option when they perceive an emerging need in the community. A college might be contacted by a local business to address a need for workers to be trained in a particular skill. Colleges may respond quickly to offer this training through community service programs because the individuals needing the skill do not need college credit, and because state funding is not supporting such courses, the process for their approval is simplified. Employers are satisfied because they now have higher skilled and educated workers, the workers are pleased because they have improved their career opportunities, and the college is gratified because it is fulfilling its mission and because this successful encounter could lead to other partnerships with the community. All parties are happy, aren’t they?

The answer to that last question depends on the approval processes for community services offerings at the local college or district. Title 5 does not require the local academic senate to approve these courses; in fact, state regulation contains no mention of consultation with the academic senate about community services offerings at all. Does your academic senate, or in its stead your curriculum committee, review community services offerings before they are sent to your local board for approval? Should they?

Even though community services program administrators are not required to consult with the academic senate about these offerings, bypassing the academic senate is not good practice. The academic senate, or the curriculum committee, should have the opportunity to review community services offerings to ensure that the courses do not conflict with offerings in existing credit and non-credit programs. For example, imagine that the community services program at a local college would like to offer an Introduction to Quickbooks course. Currently, the college’s business department offers Accounting 035: Quickbooks, a credit course that appears in several certificates and degrees. If the two courses are offered, will they conflict with each other, causing confusion for students, enrollment issues, and possibly a drain on college resources? The only way to be certain that each course serves a specific purpose for a specific population is to have the faculty review the community services course and compare it to the existing credit course.

If your academic senate or curriculum committee does not currently review community services offerings, your college might wish to consider changing that process. Some might see this process as just one more curricular hoop to jump through, but faculty have an obligation to collaborate with administrators and staff on all educational offerings to ensure that colleges are doing everything that they can to meet the needs of students and the community. The process does not need to be laborious; the review of community services courses may be added to the consent agenda of either the senate, the curriculum committee, or both. When necessary, faculty may pull a course from the consent agenda if they see concerns that need to be addressed. Such a procedure ensures that all educational offerings are vetted through a collegial and transparent process that involves all relevant parties.

Community services programs provide our colleges an excellent opportunity to meet the educational needs of our community despite challenging times and uncertain budgets. As faculty, we should take an active role in exercising this option to meet the needs of students. The flexibility of community service offerings is a gift and a curse: it provides an opportunity to fulfill our mission to meet community need, but it could just as easily be misused to undermine credit or noncredit offerings. Only by establishing a cooperative relationship between your academic senate and your community service administration can you be certain that these offerings benefit your students and community members as well as enrich your college.