Host of New Legislative Measures Coming to California Community Colleges

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Host of New Legislative Measures Coming to California Community Colleges
We report on the numerous pieces of legislation recently signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown in an attempt to revamp and ramp up the state’s floundering community college system.
California community colleges have been struggling in recent years, facing dwindling budgets and increasing scrutiny from college regulatory agencies. Governor Jerry Brown has now taken the community college problem into his own hands, signing legislation that will lead to significant changes in these institutions of higher education. With concern for the low completion rates the California community college system now faces, Governor Brown focused specifically on laws that would increase the odds of student success at community colleges throughout the state.

The Student Success Act of 2012
 
One of the key pieces of legislation Governor Brown recently signed into law was the Student Success Act of 2012 or SB1456. The Press-Telegram reports that this bill focused directly on the state’s community college system, in an effort to improve completion rates and student success at these institutions. The Student Success Act of 2012 includes a number of specific measures community colleges will now have to utilize to help their students succeed in college. Some of the measures include:

  • Development of a student education plan to help students plan course schedules accordingly
  • Requirement that all incoming students attend an orientation session before taking courses
  • Minimum standards for academic success in order to receive fee waivers
  • Creation of a student success report card that will be used to determine future funding
  • Addition of an all new assessment test that will help place students in the proper classes

The bill also contains a provision that ensures new students entering a community college will be able to get the courses they need to launch their degree program. Currently, students who have been in the system longest get priority in course scheduling. However, some of these students have been in community college for many years, without showing signs they are headed toward graduation. The new legislation will ban these practices. According to the Press-Enterprise, some California schools are already following similar policies. For example, San Bernardino Community College moves students with 109 credits or more to the back of the registration line.
 
The new bill was authored by Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), who wanted to give community college students the support services they need to succeed in their postsecondary education.
 
“It is unacceptable that more than 50 percent of community college students are not graduating or transferring within six years,” Sen. Lowenthal stated at the Press-Telegram. “SB1456 is the first step toward a community college system that is refocused and rededicated to student success and achievement.”
 
SB1456 was drafted earlier this year and passed the state senate in May with a bipartisan vote of 33-1. Over the summer, the bill unanimously passed the Assembly, before getting Governor Brown’s autograph to make it official.
 
Free Online Textbooks
 
Two additional bills, 1052 and 1053, were signed by Jerry Brown to get free online textbooks into the hands of college students. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the bills require the creation of a faculty council that will determine which classes should accommodate the free digital textbooks. These textbooks would be created and then become a part of a digital library, where students and faculty could access resources at no charge.
 
“There’s absolutely no reason a basic biology, statistics or accounting textbook, for example, should cost $200,” Darrell Steinberg, the State Senate’s president pro tempore, told the Chronicle. Steinberg was the author of these two bills.
 
To create the digital resources, the bill includes provisions for the state government to draft a “Request for Proposals” process, according to Red Orbit. This process would invite educators, faculty and publishers to create high quality resources that can be used in the college classroom. All material will be published under a Creative Commons license that allows access to the material online by students and faculty.  
 
“This is a great victory for students and middle-class families struggling with the ever increasing costs of higher education,” Steinberg told Red Orbit. “This is a major step toward using technology to cut costs for students while enhancing the quality of higher education in California.”
 
Major Changes Coming to California Community College System
 
The bills recently signed into law by Governor Brown are just part of the big changes coming to the California community college system this academic year. The Washington Post reports that California Community Colleges has also appointed a new chancellor of California’s 112-campus community college system. Veteran administrator Brice Harris has been appointed to the post as the 15th chancellor for the system.
 
Harris, who previous headed up the Los Rios Community College District in the Sacramento region, has ample qualification for this position. Prior to his post at Los Rios Community College District, Harris served as President of Fresno City College. Harris will replace current chancellor Jack Scott this year. Scott has left his post to pursue a scholar in residence position with Claremont Graduate University.
 
Harris will pick up where Scott left off, working directly with the new laws Governor Brown has introduced. Harris also faces a critical ballot issue next month – a tax initiative known as Proposition 30, which could severely cut funding to community colleges if it is not passed. Community colleges would face a budget reduction of more than $338 million, and could be forced to turn away as many as 100,000 students statewide.
 
Despite the challenges, Harris is optimistic that the California community college system can be turned around. He told the Washington Post, “I am bullish on California Community Colleges. I believe the best days are ahead of us, and I look forward to this challenge.”

Additional Resources [+]
The High Cost of Community College Dropouts
The High Cost of Community College Dropouts
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