On Education: A practical vision of college success

Finally, someone is making cents out of education.

State Sen. Carol Liu, up for reelection in November in the newly configured 25th District, was at Glendale Community College on Monday to lay out the tenets of the Student Success Act of 2012.

The legislation, which Liu helped write and Gov. Jerry Brown has until Sunday to sign into law, strives to make community colleges more productive by augmenting critical services and prioritizing enrollees with clear education goals and performance records.

“What do I want? I want more kids coming of the system getting bachelor's degrees or technical certificates, and I want them into jobs,” Liu said. “I want them working for themselves, and I want them working for the rest of us.”

Specifically, under the Student Success Act, colleges would provide student services including, but not limited to, orientation, assessment and placement, counseling, education planning and academic intervention. They would also assess the effectiveness of services by collecting data on ethnicity, age gender, disability and socioeconomic status.

In addition, students would be required to identify an education goal, such as a degree or technical certificate, and to develop an appropriate course of study. If students desire to continue to qualify for enrollment fee waivers, they will have to demonstrate progress. The changes would be phased in over a couple of years.

Space in Glendale Community College classrooms is at a premium this fall. Multimillion-dollar budget cuts mean accommodating 13,600 students, down from 20,056 three years ago. It is a scenario mirrored at the other 111 community colleges statewide.

Also at stake is California's economic future, Liu argued. She cited a 2009 report published by the Public Policy Institute of California that states that by 2025, the state will be 1 million college graduates short of what it needs to compete in the global economy.

“If we don't build California, there are lots of people out there around the world who would like to take our place,” Liu said. “We need to make these investments. We need to be more mindful of how we spend our dollars. These kids need to succeed.”

California schools have taken a financial beating during the recent economic downturn, Liu noted. Community colleges could lose an additional $330 million if voters reject Brown's November tax initiative. But more funding alone isn't the answer. Educators and students must be more focused on results, she said.

Reform efforts by Liu and others have met plenty of resistance. Critics were particularly incensed by one of Liu's now-defunct ideas — to fund colleges partly based on performance. There was more criticism Tuesday. Some Glendale Community College faculty members contend that the changes would disproportionately harm poor and working students.

Their concerns are justified. For decades, California community colleges were effective, all-access portals for those seeking first an education, but ultimately a better quality of life. The system has helped educate a workforce that drives the fifth-largest economy in the world.

And there are innumerable reasons why a student's education might be interrupted, including work and family obligations. Those already facing extraordinary odds should not be further penalized.

But a community college model that served California so well in the 20th century might not be the right model for this century. The demand is skyrocketing, the resources finite. Asking students to be a proactive participant in their education is by no means unreasonable. Actually, it's smart.

Classes run $46 per unit, up from $11 in 2000. Still, when you consider the A-grade resources including teachers, counselors, athletic facilities and extracurricular opportunities available at Glendale Community College, it is still the best deal in town. The Student Success Act could bring some much-needed accountability to the mix.

Liu was less convincing when asked how she would go about securing buy-in from 18-year-olds more interested in playing video games than charting a life course.

I would refer them to another data set.

In 2010, the median annual income for individuals ages 25 to 34 with an associate's degree was $37,000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics — $7,100 more than the income of someone with only a high school diploma.

The figures climb from there. A bachelor's degree translated into a median income of $45,000, while those with master's and doctorate degrees were netting $54,700.

Now those are some numbers to study by.

MEGAN O'NEIL is a former education reporter for Times Community News and current graduate student at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She may be reached at megan.oneil.06@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World