Despite reasonably optimistic budget predictions for Santa Barbara City College, school officials will be on pins and needles until the Legislature takes up controversial reforms included in the governor’s budget.
Two in particular aim at incentivizing students to finish their degrees and stay on track to transfer, but, in practice, they are disincentives for not completing programs of study expeditiously. One would mandate that students pay full cost — $211 at SBCC — for every credit they earn past 90. This policy would push out “career students” in favor of those who are at the beginning of their higher education path. It typically requires 60 credits to transfer to a Cal State or UC, so 90 hypothetically leaves some wiggle room for students who need remedial coursework and those with more demanding requirements for their majors.
Das Williams, assemblymember and chair of the Assembly’s higher education committee, told The Santa Barbara Independent that he supports such a unit cap. “Depending on which statistic you look at, community colleges only have 30 to 50 percent of their students transfer or complete after six years, and that is an unacceptably low completion rate,” he said. “What that is creating … is the greatest crisis in access to education the State of California has ever seen.”
SBCC president Lori Gaskin, however, expressed reservations about the policy, saying, “There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to education.” The nontraditional students catered to by community colleges may, she said, be returning for workforce training or a new degree, and they face burdens that are hard to account for. About 5 percent, or 1,141, of the 19,795 students enrolled this past fall semester had accrued 90 or more units, the largest individual tally being 383.
Those concerns also led Gaskin to admit “grave concern” about the governor’s “outcome-based funding” proposal, which is to apportion money to colleges only for students who finish their courses. The current formula counts students at the 20-percent-elapsed mark in the quarter or semester, a few weeks in. But what prompts a student to drop, said Gaskin, might be “losing child care; it might mean that carburetor blowing up; it might be not being able to pay next month’s rent.”
SBCC Board of Trustees president Marty Blum pointed out that such an apportionment formula would also delay payments. She predicted significant pushback from trustees across the state, and she just might know because she spent the weekend at a conference with them in Sacramento.
Blum welcomed the conversation, however. “Frankly, I’m glad the governor put it out there. We have until the May revise to have that discussion.” Williams has already had that discussion with the SBCC Student Senate. At a meeting with their state representative, the students suggested charging a penalty fee for those who drop courses after the add/drop deadline and thereby preclude another student from taking the same class. This would shift the burden of paying for open seats from the college to the students who vacate them.
Either way, said Williams, the governor is “determined” to push his agenda through the Legislature, so something has to give. “My main message is just to say that people who are opposed better pick some other proposals to support.”