It doesn’t matter that Andrew Harper grew up in London, England, where the most popular bat sport is cricket. He still “hit a home run” when interviewing to lead the new Center for Lifelong Learning (CLL) at Santa Barbara City College, said Vice President Jack Friedlander. Currently a director in the Continuing Education Division of the college, he bested 96 applicants from around the country and, as of last night, earned unanimous board approval to become the CLL’s first executive director.
After a peripatetic career teaching in England, France, Egypt, and Spain, and working as an administrator in outposts like Oman and Kerrville, Texas, Harper made his way from Florida to Santa Barbara 13 years ago to take a position with UCSB Extension before hopping to SBCC in 2009. But when the college decided on a reorganization that would vaporize the Continuing Education administration, Harper knew there was an outside shot he’d have to pull up his stakes again. Now, instead of losing his job at the end of the year, he’ll be one of the architects of the college’s new adult education structure. “I’m an optimist, and it drives people nuts,” Harper joked to The Santa Barbara Independent.
The CLL will house noncredit classes including those in the arts, psychology, health, and parenting. Such courses are being — or have already been — converted to fee-based as the state has threatened to pull funding for them and as credit students find it increasingly more difficult to find spots in the courses they need to transfer or earn degrees. Those noncredit courses prioritized by the state — like ESL and workforce training — will now be administered by the credit division.
Harper does not believe that the CLL is a grand experiment, explaining that colleges and universities around the world have created similar models, but there is no doubt community colleges across California will be paying attention to this new entity. Should the CLL be able to stay afloat and keep tuitions reasonable, there are advantages to breaking free of the state bureaucracy. The new division — to be headquartered at the Schott Center — will be able to offer any courses it or its students so please.
Harper only has about a month before he needs to begin programming, and his first order of business will be to draw up a budget, which he says he will do “conservatively.” He will also need to hire his staff, including a development person as fundraising will be pivotal to the center’s survival.
Asked whether a current Continuing Education administrator was hired to appease the adult ed community after the turmoil of the last few years — the replacement of a president, sanctions from the college’s accreditor, complete turnover at the Board of Trustees, a reorganization, and the decision to charge for courses that were previously free — SBCC President Lori Gaskin answered with a vociferous no. “Cream always rises,” she said. “I wasn’t looking for anyone externally or anyone internally.”
Friedlander echoed her sentiment, saying that of the four finalists that were interviewed, Harper was easily the best option. His knowledge in four areas — designing course offerings, marketing, drawing up budgets, and understanding organizational structure — impressed the search committee. The cherry, said Friedlander, was that Harper had recently sought certifications (of his own volition) in leadership in marketing and development and evaluation. “He did his homework,” said Friedlander.
Harper said he hopes to expand the student-base of adult education to attract more generation-Xers and -Yers, and that he’d like to exercise some creativity in programming new courses. “People are less willing to pay,” he said, “for something they’ve done before.” He predicts a slate of 800-1,000 classes — including everything from weekend workshops to term-long courses — over the course of four 10-week terms when the CLL goes fully operational.
At Thursday’s study session, the Board of Trustees also presented its Special Report to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) for a first reading. In March of last year, the ACCJC placed City College on “warning” status due to alleged breaches of proper governance primarily by the Board of Trustees. A task force was convened to address the allegations and survey the campus community. “Actionable improvement plans” include strengthening the role of the Classified Consultation Group and establishing a systemic evaluation system for reviewing decision-making processes. The full report and survey can be read below.