Trojan Horse or Tremendous Godsend? Retooling Adult Education in a New Era

ASCCC Noncredit Committee
ASCCC Noncredit Committee

Since 2010, sweeping legislative changes have radically altered the future of adult education in community colleges.  Among the various significant pieces of legislation on this topic, Assembly Bill 86 (2013) emerges as particularly pivotal in its ambitious goal to do the seemingly impossible: join two education systems that have current gaps and overlaps in serving adult Californians.  Many faculty fear a legislated "Trojan horse" whose impact may not be fully grasped before mandates demand compliance.   Others perceive this historic act as the long-awaited empowerment of faculty at the California Community Colleges (CCC) and Adult Schools to enact real change in serving students.  Regardless of how AB 86 will be viewed in time, several conversations need to be initiated in order to implement the bill’s intent. 


In 2013, the legislature passed AB 86 (Education Omnibus Trailer Bill, 2013-2014) to amend California Education Code §84830 and create regional consortia to implement a plan to “better serve the educational needs of adults” in areas that include basic skills, ESL, citizenship, high school diploma, adults with disabilities, short-term CTE, and apprenticeship. Seventy consortia are currently planning ways to join the strengths of both K-12 adult education and CCC noncredit systems to better serve students.

For many years, the CCC system and K-12 adult education have operated under completely different funding models.  However, thanks to the passing of SB 860 (Education Omnibus Trailer Bill, 2014), career development and college preparation (CDCP) FTES will be funded at the same level as the credit rate beginning in the 2015-16 fiscal year. This change will likely eliminate one of many existing disincentives for CCCs to create and maintain noncredit programs. 

AB86 legislation charges the CCC and K-12 adult education partners to identify gaps in services for their respective adult education needs and make local plans to address those areas.  In order to ensure success, these discussions must take a student-centered approach to this fast-paced and crucial planning for the future of California’s adult learner population. The faculty members currently serving adult students have the clearest finger on the pulse of those needs, but in some areas no such programs are in place. In addition, some districts have large physical distances between colleges and adult schools, while other currently have credit, noncredit, and adult education programs all operating.  As the clock ticks on the expiration of the maintenance-of-effort allowing adult schools funding to operate, colleges will need to have serious conversations in several critical areas.

Conversation 1: Ensuring Student-driven, not Funding-driven, Change

Adult education providers must maintain a student-first approach that does not bend to the pressures of funding, political notions, or insufficient timelines.  While the goal is to alleviate the barriers and gaps between community college and K-12 programs, the architects of this project must never lose sight of the fact that only a plan that has the best interests of student success at heart will produce the results that the state so desperately needs. When funding incentives come into play, faculty will need to vigilantly monitor their campuses' responses in order to ensure that the changes are curriculum-based, not funding-based.

At the recent AB 86 Adult Education Regional Planning Summit held in October 2014, many attendees were heartened to hear Assemblymember Joan Buchanan encourage the consortia to ask for more time.  Effective change requires thoughtful planning, and education depends on planning and funding that will last long enough to ensure successful implementation.  The panic felt by the adult schools, whose funding will completely disappear in 2015, combined with CCCs funding structure that does not allow confident predictions of a budget scenario  beyond six months, can make for hastily conceived solutions that may not be in the best interest of students.  In order to effectively re-design a system that will be sustainable, paradigms must shift, but they cannot do so with insufficient time to plan, imagine, speculate, and field-test.  In order to carefully craft the ultimate framework for adult education, faculty must argue for more time to ensure student success.

Shifts in paradigms mean envisioning new and improved pathways to success.  One idea for addressing such pathways is via the C-ID course descriptor process.  Creating C-ID course descriptors for courses one or two levels below transfer college coursework can create clearer articulation into these courses.  The ASCCC will be entertaining a resolution at the Fall 2014 Plenary specifically addressing the need for C-ID course descriptors to be revised. 

Conversation 2: Addressing Inequities Between Existing Systems

The worlds of CCC credit, CCC noncredit, and adult education noncredit have few common structural denominators.  The focus on transfer and degrees places CCC credit faculty in the realm of student success-aimed faculty governance; meanwhile, 95% of noncredit instruction in the CCCs is delivered by adjunct faculty members who are rarely included in campus dialogue in a meaningful way.    Furthermore, adult education noncredit faculty are often shunted to the edges of a K-12 system that overlooks their needs and input and can shift their funding away at a whim. Faculty participation is key to meaningful planning for student success initiatives such as setting up clear pathways for students, considering common demographics, and aligning curriculum between the two systems. However, under the current situation, noncredit faculty's voices are reduced to a faint whisper when they should be heralded as advocacy for the state's neediest students.

The inequities are not merely practices but systemic entrenchments.  For example, noncredit instructors are not included in Faculty Obligation Number (FON) calculations, creating a situation that provides little incentive for colleges to create and sustain healthy and robust noncredit programs that could be a vital voice in this planning. Also, in those few cases across the state where noncredit faculty exist in large enough numbers to have actual departments or programs, heavy noncredit workload issues often inhibit faculty participation outside of the classroom.  Finally, another major disadvantage facing noncredit practitioners across the state is the inequity in pay between credit and noncredit.

Conversation 3:  Addressing a Lack of Representation of Faculty in AB 86 Planning

While many AB 86 consortia are moving forward with varying faculty engagement, a recent ASCCC Executive Committee survey of local senate leadership revealed that 32% of respondents indicated that they had not been invited to participate fully in their AB86 consortium discussions.  These respondents indicated that the curricular changes being prepared for their consortia's reports, including pathways to careers, degrees, and transfer, were in fact being made by administrators with no input from faculty at all.  As curriculum is squarely in faculty purview, such deliberate lack of involvement of faculty is inexcusable and cannot be permitted.

Because each district operates differently, the idea of a one-size-fits-all solution is daunting at best and can appear dangerously ineffective to faculty knowledgeable of their own demographics' needs.  Larger districts will feel impact differently than smaller districts.  Some districts have well-established noncredit programs, while others have no history of noncredit at all.  In some districts, healthy relationships between CCC and adult education exist, while in others, the relationships are nonexistent or lacking trust and communication.   Long histories of funding inequity, differences in minimum qualifications, and disparate pay-versus-load ratios have created deep-seated frustration that has prevented collaboration.  Legislative mandates cannot force quality educational pathways where faculty have not been allowed to develop a dynamic and interactive understanding of each other’s programs or have not been able to thrive in a structure that develops good relationships. 

Where do we go from here?

Colleges that have existing noncredit programs are promised that funding inequities will be resolved in 2015.  However, work load issues and lack of inclusion of noncredit faculty in the FON will continue the inequities between credit and noncredit programs.  These inequities will cause problems for smooth implementation of any plan that develops through the AB 86 process.  The FON calculation must be changed, and workload issues must be examined and ameliorated.

Colleges that do not have noncredit programs can expect an uphill learning curve in the introduction of noncredit and will need to have conversations about the appropriate placement of ESL and basic skills courses.  Conversations of contextualization and blending of adult basic education and general education development, apprenticeships, and career technical education programs will need to involve providers from the entire education spectrum.  Colleges that currently offer math and English booster programs will need to discuss the most appropriate delivery of such services.  Fields such as ESL, which fought many years to be recognized as its own discipline, will need to remind their campuses of the importance of credit and transferable ESL but will also be forced to have conversations about content delivery in both credit and noncredit. 

Mandates to professional practices via legislative order appear unique to the profession of education. Legislators do not, for example, convene task forces to re-design the professional fields of medicine, engineering, or law, directing doctors, engineers, and lawyers to provide data and outcomes and to develop ways to align systems that were never designed to work together.  Yet, this practice happens routinely in education, and it can have the effect of putting education at risk of radical, poorly-conceived changes that fail to actually address students' needs, however well intended they may be. Nevertheless, the outcomes of these changes, good or bad, inevitably fall upon the faculty.  For this reason, faculty must be at the forefront of these very critical changes and reduce the chances of this legislation becoming a Trojan Horse.  Our role as faculty assumes deepest commitment to our students, and their future depends on us.  Faculty need to unite as a voice for a well-funded, carefully planned, and well-executed re-design of community college and K-12 systems whose alignment is long overdue.