Plenary Session Presentation
The theme that the Academic Senate Executive Committee chose for the Spring 2011 Plenary Session was Shift Happens. We chose a provocative theme for the Plenary Session because these are provocative times. Recent world events remind us that in nature, shift literally does happen, sometimes violently and catastrophically. However, when the Academic Senate chose this theme, we were thinking metaphorically ---not of life-threatening changes but rather of the potential mission-changing conversations currently underway in California higher education. Let’s consider the shifts.
Where we have been
All of us in California’s colleges take pride in being open access. The 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education established the philosophy that our community colleges are to serve all who can benefit. Over the years, colleges have expanded their offerings to include not only the traditional first two years of a baccalaureate program, pre-collegiate courses, and traditional career/technical curriculum but also emerging technologies and courses responsive to the changing workplace. We have developed award-winning English as a second language curriculum and expanded basic skills and noncredit courses to meet community needs, and we provide many developmental levels, from pre literate to collegiate. We have gladly welcomed all who come—whether they need one or two courses or a full program. We have been convinced that students (and society) benefit from whatever they acquire within our doors. But today, not everyone agrees with that supposition. While our colleges are a success story in our ability to welcome all who come with open arms, unfortunately that is seen as not enough.
Where we are
National and state pressures to produce more degrees have collided with the reality that often most of our new students arrive unprepared for collegiate coursework. While it is self evident to us that these students require more basic skills coursework and support services, the policy makers and even the president of the United States are not satisfied with the outcomes. Multiple reports such as those from the Public Policy Institute of California, (PPIC), the Institute of Higher Education Leadership and Policy (IHELP), and the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) have identified what they see as our weaknesses, and an array of foundations have launched initiatives to address the deficiencies. Their demands to produce more citizens with degrees, both associate and baccalaureate, put pressure on our colleges to primarily focus on degree attainment. The bottom line: shift is really happening.
Where we’re headed: Inevitable shifts
From various indications, it appears our colleges will change in the following ways:
- Funding---It appears likely, due to the passage of SB 1143 last September, that college funding will at least partially be based on “performance.” A Student Success Task Group has been convened by the Chancellor to examine best practices and identify appropriate metrics. Performance-based funding is very controversial (and is something the faculty have always opposed), and a recent report from the Community College Research Institute (CCRC) compared performance based funding in four states and summarized why many have failed. For our system, the hope is that the system developed in the Student Success Task Group will learn from the mistakes of others.
- The mission of CCCs likely will be narrowed. We’ve heard the Chancellor repeat over and over that we should focus only on transfer, career technical education, and basic skills, period. Colleges have been told to reduce their offerings of courses deemed “recreational” and ensure the bulk of their classes fall into the requirements for the three programmatic areas. But we know that when we alter the curriculum we offer, we are altering our mission and the students we serve.
- Curriculum. We have already seen our course schedules morph as a result of funding reductions. Arthur Cohen and Florence Brawer said, “All curriculum is, at bottom a statement a college makes about what it thinks is important.” So, what classes we offer is our statement of what---and who--matter most. In addition, discussions are underway about who should provide adult education: the K-12 system or community colleges? The state is looking for economies of scale, and the status quo may be shifting. It’s hard to predict where things will end up, but it does appear that some areas, such as noncredit offerings, will be reshaped.
- Students. The demographic shifts in California are evident in most classrooms. The first generation to college students, the second language learners, the large number of Latino students, and the students referred to as the 1.5 generation have all made a huge difference in the student body in most parts of the state. In addition, who we serve will be based on our offerings. It appears we may have a narrower range of students, and because a priority may be given for those students who show they are making progress (per potential legislative mandates), the colleges will likely become more selective and less open-access. As fees go up, competition for seats gets fiercer. The LAO has proposed which students should be at the front of the line, and now proposed legislation mirrors those recommendations. We will have to wait and see where pending legislation ends up, but no one can argue the fact that our students will continue to change.
- New pedagogies. There is no doubt that the old way of teaching is often not the best way---certainly not for many of our students. Faculty need strong professional development opportunities to view teaching and learning through new lenses and to re-shape their instruction. Administrators and policy makers will need to support more professional development. The days of instructors working alone in their offices and classrooms are (or should be) over. We all need to do a better job of collaborating—to strengthen both teaching and learning. Faculty sometimes are labeled as inflexible; we have to show that we can adapt to the shifting students and the resulting pedagogical imperatives.
- Marketplace values. Pressure is growing from the “customers” (a term that causes most faculty to cringe when applied to our students). But to those outside academe, students are the “consumers” of higher education---with all the concomitant effects: the customer is always right, and we should adapt to what they want (e.g., all online and short term programs and a rapid time to degree). The signs of marketplace values seeping into academe are increasing. Can those floods be held back?
The need to have an informed and active academic senate has perhaps never been greater. At a time when major changes are occurring in our colleges, we have more new administrators, and often those from out of state do not have an understanding of the 10 + 1 or of the aims of AB 1725. Simultaneously we have hired a new generation of faculty and retired many senior faculty members who understood the need for strong academic senates. Therefore, it is essential for senates to be seeped in the wisdom of the 10 + 1. Senates need to train their faculty, administrators, and trustees. (See Dianne Chiabotti’s article in this edition, and also see previous Rostrum articles: “Administrators Need an Orientation to the Senate” May 2007 and “How Much do you Know About Your Academic Senate” September 2005). Faculty must be at the table in mission-changing decisions at their colleges, not only because of their professionalism and wisdom but because if they are not there, they will create a pattern of non participation and ultimately weaken the role of faculty in governance.
AB 1725 was the major turning point in our history as community college faculty. Those of us who lived in the system before and after that era are certain of the need to preserve and perpetuate the responsibility and authority granted to the college professoriate in our system.
Where we have been is not where we’re going. The state budget situation, the national and state demands for more degrees, new legislation, and cries for accountability have coalesced to re-shape the colleges we know and love. As these shifts continue, faculty acting at the state and local level must help to ensure that the mission of our colleges as “democracy’s colleges” is not eroded. We should continue to serve the students who are already eligible for a university and who choose to begin in a community college, but we must not let that mission become our only mission. We must not turn our back on the students who need community colleges the most.