The Next Victim of Public Education Neglect

It had to come sooner or later. California's community colleges are now in the cross-hairs of the budget-cutting guns. Using terms like efficiency, progress and alignment, a task force under the direction of Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott and his 17-member board has recommended changes that could save as much as $89 million annually. But at what cost in personal development?

The task force has focused on ways to assure more success for community college students. Too many, the members say, attend community college unsure of their direction. Too many, they say, drop out without ever completing an A.A. degree, a training program, or moving on to a four-year institution. Bearing in mind the limited resources available, the task force has come up with ways to help students succeed.

Some suggestions are right on the mark, including better assessments of student needs and capabilities; better guidance for students to make sure that they take the right courses; making technology more available to students; assuring more financial aid; and realigning community college programs with U.C. and C.S.U. programs.

All these recommendations and others are long overdue and most welcome.

But there is another part of the original community college mandate -- to serve as an entry level institution of higher learning for those who are searching for their future. This "open access," while laudable, is no longer affordable, according to the task force. To that end, only students who know what they want to do, would be allowed to proceed. That's because the recommendations call for all incoming students to develop an "education plan."

Therein lies the rub. A primary purpose of the first two years of higher education is for students to take a variety of courses that will help them find their passion. Large numbers of students have no clue of what they want to do. Others decide after a semester or two that college is not for them. Some may view these experiences as a waste of community resources. But in reality, these experiences probably go a long way in helping these attendees to define themselves and their futures. That goes for working adults, too, people who decide to take a second shot at a new career path by beginning anew in community colleges.

The bottom line is: efficiency is always good as long as the product doesn't lose value along the way.

Community colleges give students the opportunities to self-discover and grow. Some will more than others, but without those opportunities, hundreds of thousands may find their options limited before they even know what they are.

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