Who Are City College Students?

They Are Our Future

Santa Barbara City College
Paul Wellman (file)

Our community has been aptly described as a slice of paradise for so many reasons: our environment, quality of life, geography, heritage, cultural richness, and the like. I may be biased, but I firmly believe that our stellar educational institutions contribute immensely to our paradise. SBCC, UCSB, Westmont, Antioch, Fielding, our K-12 school districts — these all serve collectively as the foundation for the vibrant fabric of our community.

At the end of June, I will be retiring as president from one of these exceptional educational institutions — Santa Barbara City College. I am deeply grateful for the 36 years I have had serving in the California Community College system, of which SBCC is a part. As citizens of this great state, we have been the beneficiaries of the prescient thinking and vision of those who led California during the last century. These leaders had the foresight to establish a world-class public higher education structure in this state built upon the core values of access and opportunity for all. While the public has a solid understanding of the function and purpose of the University of California and California State University systems, I have found that to be less so for our California community colleges. Having devoted my professional life to this noble calling, I feel compelled to explain why SBCC and our sister community colleges are the unsung heroes of our public higher education system.

Who are we? We are 113 community colleges spread across the state. We educate 2.1 million students each year. That’s 8.5 times more students than are educated in the UCs and 4.7 times more than are educated by the CSUs. It’s evident from this metric alone that the community colleges are founded on the principle of open access. We are not exclusionary. Rather, we are inclusive, egalitarian, and have long contributed to the democratization of higher education. As I often describe it, we embrace the top 100 percent of the students who seek to enroll in any of our 113 colleges. Not the top 5 percent or 10 percent or 20 percent. But the top 100 percent. You likely know someone who has attended one of our community colleges, perhaps your daughter, son, sibling, relative, friend. Perhaps you attended one of our state’s community colleges.

Our educational priorities are clear. Our primary mission is twofold: 1) providing freshman- and sophomore-level courses of study for students preparing to transfer to a four-year institution for a baccalaureate degree; and 2) providing career and technical education in a wide range of fields. For those who may be underprepared for college-level coursework (remember, we accept the top 100 percent), we offer instruction in foundational skills. Additionally, we are the purveyor of adult education in English as a Second Language, Adult High School, GED, parent education, and career development. And we champion lifelong learning. Additionally, we are tasked with the priority mission of advancing California’s economic growth and global competitiveness through workforce improvement. It is evident from our mission that community colleges form the backbone of higher education in this state.

And our students — who are they? They are everyone. Our students are our local high school graduates. They are returning vets. They are first in their family to attend college. Our students are redirects from UC or CSU due to low acceptance rates or economics or both. Our students may have graduated top in their high school class and chosen to attend one of the community colleges in the state as their first stop along their educational journey. Or they may be high school dropouts. Our students may be educationally disenfranchised and seeking a second chance. They may be single parents. Our students may be former foster youth. They may be economically disadvantaged, with no family support for going to college. Our students carry academic loads and work 20, 30, 40-plus hours a week in your local restaurant, retail establishment, grocery store, and coffee shop. Our students are honors students who are academically accomplished. Our students are underrepresented minorities who have long been disproportionately impacted by factors precluding college going. Our students may be limited English proficient. Our students may be newly unemployed or re-entry adults dealing with changing life circumstances. Our students, with their diversity of ethnicities, backgrounds, life experiences, age, and circumstances, comprise the richness that is a California community college. Who are our students? They are our future.

As one of the 113 community colleges in the state, SBCC stands tall and proud in serving as a gateway to higher education for all our students. Through clarity of purpose, focus, and unwavering dedication, SBCC has a well-earned reputation for academic excellence. We are the institution of first choice, the institution of second chance, the institution of third opportunity, and the institution of hope and potential. SBCC opens doors, changes lives, shapes the future. And the work that SBCC does pays dividends for generations to come.


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