Gov. Brown seeks to use budget to force community college reforms

Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to force far-reaching reforms on the California Community College system in his final state budget could lead to fireworks as the Legislature moves to adopt a 2018-19 spending plan by the June 15 deadline.

Brown wants to force officials at each of the CCC’s 114 campuses to prioritize their 2.1 million students completing their degrees and vocational certificates. He hopes to do this by tying a portion of state funding – perhaps as much as $3 billion, or 20 percent, of the system budget – both to student performance and to campuses’ ability to help the progress of students who come from poor families or have other life obstacles. Funding has historically been driven primarily by the much simpler metric of total enrollment.

The twist that has upset many community college officials, however, is that the governor wants the new funding formula in place in a little more than two months – on July 1, at the start of the next fiscal year. Given the history of some community colleges doing much worse on student “completion” than others, this could mean they face immediate budget cuts. This would play havoc with planning and affect students adversely, college officials have warned.

The EdSource website reported last week that two lawmakers with key roles in community college budgeting appear to share the fear that the Brown administration’s plan is being prematurely fast-tracked. State Sen. Anthony J. Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, who chairs an education budget subcommittee, said campuses had raised “valid concerns.” Assemblyman Kevin D-McCarty, D-Sacramento, who chairs the education budget subcommittee in his chamber, was even more bluntly skeptical, saying if lawmakers don’t like what they hear from the governor’s office and CCC in coming weeks, they may “nix the plan altogether.”

LAO: Past efforts to speed up graduation a flop

But while Brown’s hope for a quick adoption of his reforms may be stymied, his hope for change may pay off after he leaves office. That’s because momentum has been building for years behind the idea of expecting community colleges to do much more to prod students to meet their goals and move on. The administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was also impatient with CCC’s record in his final years in office. Past legislative leaders ordered the creation of a “Student Success” task force and backed other initiatives to improve degree and certificate completion rates.

But a February report by the nonpartisan, respected Legislative Analyst’s Office found little evidence this approach was working.

“Using the most recent data available, community colleges have made little progress with respect to program completion,” the LAO wrote. “The six‑year completion rate for the most recent cohort (students who began college in 2010‑11) is 48 percent, 1 percentage point lower than the completion rate for the 2006‑07 cohort (49 percent).”

These numbers may disappoint California elected officials, but many states would like to have them. In December, the National Student Clearinghouse released its annual report on college completion rates. It found that over the most recent six-year span for which information was available, 38 percent of students at two-year colleges who had begun their studies in 2011 completed a degree or certificate.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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