The governing body of California's community colleges placed its stamp of approval on a set of sweeping changes to the system Monday night in a meeting in Sacramento.
Those changes were first outlined by a task force assigned to find ways to increase the number of students either completing certificate/degree programs at California's community colleges or transferring to four-year institutions.
The task force report came on the heels of a 2010 Cal State Sacramento report that found over 70% of students at community colleges were unable to complete a degree or transfer to a four-year school within six years of entering junior college.
As a result, the Board has proposed drastic changes to the system, which could include requiring community colleges to prioritize who they serve and who gets left behind.
Critics of the proposal, including many who spoke at the board meeting prior to the 11-0 vote in favor of endorsing these measures, say some changes could go against the original intent of California's community colleges - to be open to the entire "community."
For instance, under these proposals, junior colleges would have to begin gearing things such as courses offered, class schedules, and class selection in favor of people who have an "immediate plan." In other words, people who plan to do one of the following things would be favored in getting into the classes they need: those who want to transfer to a four-year institution, join the workforce, graduate with a certificate, or graduate with an Associate degree.
But, Bakersfield College spokesperson Amber Chiang says these changes are necessary since today's community college landscape - with budget cuts and high numbers of applicants - is much different than it was decades ago.
"Community colleges were initially designed to kind of be the everything to everyone concept," said Chiang. "And, that was great 50 or 60 years ago, but it's not working any longer."
The Board's sweeping reforms still have to be approved by the legislature since many require amending the state's Education Code.
But, Chiang says, if they are approved, getting into community college classes will become more difficult for those uncertain about their futures, those planning to take just a few units per semester, and those "career students" who simply go to school because they enjoy learning.
"So if you're a student taking up courses because you want to or because you want to learn, you're taking it away from a student who has an end goal in mind," said Chiang.
Chiang summed up the set proposals saying they are a way of "refocusing what the community college does."
They also require students, once they have decided what path they want their education to take, to move through the community college system quickly, rather than taking five, six, or seven years, as the Cal State Sacramento study found many students do.
One way the proposals seek to achieve that is by cutting state aid to students if they they've taken 110 units without finishing a degree or transferring to a four-year school. Most Associate degrees only require students to take around 60 units.
Some at the board meeting argued that discriminates against poor students.
But, Bakersfield College student Tyler Johnson, who wants to transfer to USC or UCLA, says he is all for proposals that would make that easier. He told 17 News he's been trying to take a class for a couple semesters, but it continues to be filled before he can sign-up.
"For some reason it's always the class I need more than anything, and it feels like I can't get in because it's full of people that aren't even going to go on to a four-year school after that," said Johnson.
Johnson says he feels the changes would reward those making sacrifices for their education that others aren't.
"I could be working or doing something working for my dad and making money," he said. "But, I'm here's because I actually need the class and want to be here."
Other proposed changes include requiring individual junior colleges to publish scorecards indicating their students' performance/completion rates, waving certain fees for students with a concrete plan, and using a single assessment to test students' math and English skills.