The Power of Connection

Occupational Education Committee Member

It wasn't long ago that the only way to register for classes at the community college was for the student (and family) to drive to the college, talk to a counselor, fill out the application and other forms and eventually register for courses after a series of human-to-human contacts (via orientation, assessment, arena registration with college faculty available) at the college.

In 2006, we have students attending the community colleges throughout the state that start their first day at college and never speak to any community college personnel. Many of these students have no idea why they are registered in your class. Your class may have been the one class that was open during the time-slot needed. Students may sign up for distance education courses without knowing how to use a computer. Some students make registration choices like that for many reasons, but a majority of their decisions are simply made by economic survival.

Many students start out college and do not see a counselor and do not go through orientation or assessment but they may need 12 units up front to get coverage from their parent's insurance, or to be eligible as a student athlete, or for financial aid, or to get full VA benefits, etc.

Times have changed. changes in technology, pressures to increase FTES, and more limited college resources, have together produced a disconnect for our vocational students, when what they need most is the human element.

As a counseling faculty member, I have some anecdotal observations that may be relevant as colleges come under the new accountability frameworks (AB 1417 and the student learning outcome movement).

Many students come to community colleges today because of our reputations in the state. Community colleges historically have gone the extra mile to be student-centered and accessible to students. Is that happening today at your campus?

How has technology and limited resources impacted our accessibility and approachability?

Have you done a campus climate survey? Are your students satisfied with how the college is serving the community?

Matriculation cuts a few years ago caused many colleges to cut off services that provide vital assistance to our students. Many students do not know their options but many feel an incredible pressure to transfer to a four year university.

Many students need to examine all their options. Our vocational programs are an excellent option for some students, and by bypassing matriculation, they may not be aware of these options.

Beginning in Spring 2006, the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) required by state law will now be enforced so that every high school student must pass this exam to receive a diploma. Although the intent of the CAHSEE is to help the sluggish student achievement in high school and ensure that state content standards are met, the impact of this test is controversial. I don't intend to engage in the controversy but community colleges ought to be aware that many students will turn to them for options.

Without a strong matriculation program and resources in place, are community colleges adequately prepared to take on yet another large population and meet their specialized needs?

Will this be one more barrier for some of our vocational students seeking a more direct pathway to a livable and fulfilling career?

We must continue to find ways to function as a community, with faculty assisting staff and other faculty in bridging those widening chasms described above so that our students don't flounder, wasting their time and precious resources. Integration between instructional, counseling, and vocational programs should be promoted. It is a good idea for classroom instructors and counselors to go to each other's department meetings once in a while. Break down the silos so that the students that you have in common are not the only bridge between these institutional elements.