Face to Face: A Conversation with Larry Calderon

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Broward Community College president shares his vision for BCC and talks about the challenges facing higher education.

Q. You have been at the helm here for two years. As you look back over this short time, is there anything about BCC, or higher education in South Florida, that has surprised you?

A. I need to preface, I guess to put it in context, that I did come from California, and California for the longest time was recognized as the premier educational system in the country. Now, of course, it's slid down to who knows how close to the bottom. By contrast, I look at what we've inherited in Florida, and I think we're in some very exciting times.

Two years ago, when I arrived, I was very pleased to hear the governor, Jeb Bush, at that time talking about and recognizing the community college as a viable engine in economic development. And then I heard, soon after that, President Bush talking about the same thing. And so I've been very excited about the fact that community colleges are being recognized as a viable part of the economic engine.

Funding has remained pretty much flat. Even though they've talked about a 5 percent increase, or a 9 percent increase, that sort of thing; we're asking for 9 percent this year, but when you adjust it for inflation and the cost of living and all that, it's pretty much been a flat budget from one year to the next.

I think we've taken the necessary steps to pass on whatever costs are needed to be passed on to make it a quality education for the students. Enrollment fees have been increased the last two years in a row to the maximum of what the state can authorize us to, but that's just to maintain us on an even keel.

Q. You mentioned the governor's and the president's statements in support of community colleges. Have they delivered on those words with actions and dollars?

A. Well, they put their money where their mouths were in terms of matching dollars, for example. Any private dollars that we collect, there is a matching program. They've fully matched that program the past two years. We have done very well in the capital construction program, money for maintenance and new projects, renovations money. So we've been very pleased there.

They have not provided us the last two years with growth money. So any enrollment growth that we've realized has been sustained by the same dollars that are there to provide existing programs. That's not been as a good as we hoped. On a positive note, we haven't gone backwards. They haven't cut us. They haven't threatened to not fund programs. If anything they've been supportive, and given us at least as much or slightly more [year-to-year].

Q. The 2006 legislative session is coming up in Tallahassee. What are the community colleges asking from lawmakers?

A. We're asking for $54.5 million systemwide. That represents about a 9 percent increase. That would be healthy. That would allow us to continue the programs, as we've been able to expand them currently.

The exciting piece for us, though, in Broward, is that the chancellor has recommended $15 million in differential equity funding. What I mean by that is that in 1999, when the funding formula for community colleges was adopted, it froze in place the rates that were being charged by the colleges, across the 28 colleges. Now, the various colleges would charge a higher or less percentage of the enrollment fee that was authorized. … So the colleges that had been charging the maximum at the time, they were getting a higher reimbursement for their full-time equivalent students vs. the [colleges] that were not charging as much.

The plan was then that over a period of time, those that were receiving less than the statewide average reimbursement for every full-time equivalent student would get equalized. But that never happened. This year, for the first time in '06, [the chancellor] has recommended what he's called compression funding. That is to make up that disparity. So this $15 million is being earmarked to be allocated first and off the top to those colleges that are below the statewide average. That would gain about $3 million more for us, and for about seven other schools in the state. He's proposing to do that over a five-year period of time to get us up to that statewide average.

Q. Your predecessor, Willis Holcombe, was very concerned about keeping the open-door policy, the idea that every student would find a seat in a community college classroom, opened for all students. Has the open door closed or have you been able to keep it open?

A. Some of the colleges, and I don't think Broward fell into this, sort of took the political stand that if growth wasn't going to funded that they weren't going to bear the burden of additional students at the expense of the existing programs. Some schools intentionally limited capacity building. … So, the consequence of that is that students would apply, enroll and then found the classes full.

Broward never went as far closing the door. If there was a demand and a need, they found a way of shifting resources to accommodate where the growth was. What we did in the past year, when I first arrived, was to try to ascertain whether or not the door was truly open to all segments of our community.

In order to answer that question, we had to find out who is in our community and who is being represented in community college enrollments. … We looked at the latest data from the census figures from the federal government, county figures, municipality figures, economic entity figures, in-migration, out-migration, what kinds of students we were finding. We took that information and the profiles and compared it to enrollment data.

And what we found was a large in-migration of students primarily of South American descent who were in-migrating to Broward County and that were not finding their way to the entrance of the college. So we immediately set out to figure out what we could do to respond to that need, to the need of those students, and to open the door a little wider, if you will, to that population …

Q. What is a hybrid course?

A. Many students cannot afford to spend the 17 ½ weeks in a classroom, come to the class two days a week, three days a week, or whatever. The hybrid course affords them an opportunity of taking about 75 percent of the coursework online … They are able to access the curriculum, their lessons, do the homework, turn it in, get the feedback from the instructors in the chat rooms and e-mail, and that sort of stuff, and then meet with the instructor for the other quarter of the time. So instead of meeting three times out of the week they meet once a week. That provides for the convenience of student schedules and also opens up new markets -- your working students.

Q. There was a report that Florida SAT scores were down for seniors leaving high schools. Does that surprise you, given the emphasis statewide on the FCAT and improving K-12 student performance?

A. There are really two parts to the answer to that question … [One side of] this equation has to do with the discrepancy that we discovered between the successful completion of competencies in high school to pass the FCAT and the entrance requirement for a student to pass the college placement test. The FCAT deems them competent to graduate from high school with the minimum of 10th-grade competency. And, of course, the college placement test requires them to be 13th-grade ready.

So, many of the students … [have] demonstrated 10th-grade competency. And then because of the focus of the schools on getting the FCAT scores up, basically they are left up to their own devices for two years to do not much of anything. If the student is very enthusiastic about his own career, and so forth, we may find him getting into the College Academy, which is high school dual enrollment in college.

But for a large number of students, they find themselves disengaging for a couple of years. Unfortunately, then when they come to us having not really improved their skill sets in their junior and senior years, they find themselves at a loss and having a difficult time passing the CPT. So, then they require remediation at some level.

Q. Sounds like an unintended consequence of the FCAT …

A. The other side of this that nobody talks about is that the FCAT has so polarized the efforts of the high schools to get them to increase the passage rate that it comes at the expense of all the social programs, the athletic programs, the performing arts programs, all the other things that used to enhance the high school experience. And so they lose twice. If they're lucky they don't lose their initiative, they pass the FCAT and go on to the community college still engaged. But at worst, they don't do anything for a couple of years, they don't have anything to keep them interested and so I think that contributes in a way to the dropout rates.

Q. I noted that BCC just opened a campus in Weston. What other expansion plans do you have?

A. We just opened that this semester. We offered 30 classes, class sections, and 27 of them are filled. So it's going better than expected. There's a huge need out there that we're responding to, and it's a beautiful facility … That's one program that will grow …

The other program that's just about to receive attention insofar as a grand opening is the Miramar campus. Now, that facility is aimed at the creation of an automotive technology program …When we get to full capacity we'll be turning out about 200 mechanics a year from that program …

We also had requests from Pompano Beach to offer classes, because there's demand out there. Whether that will develop into a center or a satellite or whatever, we'll have to see what the future holds …

Q. You also opened a theater in Pembroke Pines …

A. The theater in the Pembroke Pines campus was dilapidated. It had been shut down for, I don't know, two to three years? We were fortunate to get funding that allowed us to go back in with a new A/C, put in a new stage … It's not a large theater; it's about 300 seats, right around there. But at least it gives us an opportunity to introduce some level of performing arts at the campus and have a venue for community events.

Q. What do you hope your legacy will be vs. your predecessor's?

A. Will's legacy was solidifying the foundation of BCC. In the 1960s, when BCC was founded, there was a lot of need, as he pointed out, to provide access to higher education.

My challenge has been to stay flexible and current and responsive to the educational training for the community today. I think that if there is a single way of describing the differences in the challenge, it is that in those days you looked at your student as an individual, a young person, who wanted access to higher education in the traditional sense. He wanted a degree. He wanted a diploma. He wanted to transfer to a four-year school.

We no longer look at our students as that individual. Sure, we still have that 18-year-old who wants to come straight out of high school, but our median age is like 38 … And we're serving the chambers of commerce. We're serving economic development. We're serving recertifications and licensing. We have an aviation institute, [a fast-track teacher program]… our health sciences school has 29 certifications in everything from dental assistants to radiology. Our institute of public safety trains all the deputies in Broward County, and many of the agencies from the cities.

So when you think of all the entities we're serving, and the many we haven't talked about, the role of training and education is as dynamic as South Florida and Broward County are.

Interviewed by Editorial Writer Antonio Fins


Background

Larry A. Calderon became president of Broward Community College two years ago, replacing Willis Holcombe, who served in the post 17 years.

Before arriving in South Florida, Calderon served as president of Ventura College in Ventura, Calif., for nine years. His accomplishments in Ventura offered a sneak peek at how he planned to lead BCC. He started Ventura College Institute for Community and Professional Development, and established partnerships with private and public entities in the region. He also expanded the college's East Campus. He's pursued similar efforts at BCC.

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