Monday, July 16, 2012

Unanswered Questions Raised by Proposed Enrollment Regulations at California Community Colleges

by Ariel Carmona Jr.

According to information released by the chancellor's office last week, students planning to finish school will likely be allowed to register before others at California's 112 community colleges.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that a plan to give enrollment priority to students who have completed an orientation, taken English or Math skills tests, or filled out a plan for completing college has won preliminary approval.

The community college state board is expected to vote on the proposal in September, and the new rules would take effect in 2014, but under these new rules, colleges would penalize students who have completed far more units than they need to transfer to a four-year school.

It was not immediately clear how many of the state's 2.7 million or so students complete an educational plan, and it's also unknown at this time how educators who are grappling with an ongoing budget crunch, which has already slashed thousands of classes, can figure out how to help students plan their educational paths.

The Daily Democrat newspaper reports Paul Feist, in the California Community College's Chancellor's Office said the board also gave final approval to new regulations preventing students from repeating classes they have already passed.

KPGS news also reported that active-duty military, veterans and former foster children will still have priority standing. They will be followed by students who have completed education plans, are in good academic standing, and have fewer than 100 credits.

On the face of it, the proposed changes are good, theoretically getting rid of the professional student in favor of those who have clear ideas and are on track to graduate and join the professional ranks. 

On further inspection, these are proposed regulations which bring up more questions than they answer and which appear to be contrary to the traditional mission of community colleges: To give students another viable educational option, other than more expensive state schools and private colleges.

For example: will the new regulations exempt students retroactively, those who have amassed a great number of units sampling various career options, or will it punish them right away by not allowing them to register into classes?

And what of a program such as a school's journalism program? At Mt. SAC for example, we relied on student editors repeating classes for practice because it was impossible them to learn their craft in one semester's time. These new regulation fail to address specialized programs like a school newspaper, which are very important to the campus community and the individual students.

There are many other activity, non-academic courses which require several semesters to achieve proficiency, but these new regulations would prevent students from repeating "activity" courses, such as art or music, starting in Fall 2013.

In the end, if the regulations work out similar to the U.S. government practice of making federal mandates, and then giving states the autonomy to implement and interpret their own laws, at least in theory, state colleges would have the same ability to regulate their curriculums to fit the system's requirements. Yet, this seems a messier process, and it could be an expensive one, if counseling departments, some already affected by budget cuts, have to beef up their manpower to help current and future generation of students.

It will be a "wait and see" game for those who are choosing community college as their primary educational institution, but one thing seems clear, if law makers get their way, the days of repeating courses and sampling various educational tracks are over.

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