Community colleges under pressure

California’s community colleges are near the breaking point, reports the LA Times. Colleges are flooded with people trying to train for new jobs, making it even harder for students who want to earn credits to transfer to a four-year institution. The system is a mess — in the same way it’s been a mess for at least 20 years.

. . . the Public Policy Institute of California, in a 2006 study, found that only about 25% of the students who are focused on transferring actually make it.

For many students, trying to assemble transfer credits is like entering a looking-glass world where little is as it seems. Comp 101 might be a prerequisite for transferring to Cal Poly Pomona but not to Cal State Long Beach, a requirement for English majors but not rhetoric students, good enough for the Cal State system but not for UC, or vice versa.

In addition, the requirements for a student to earn an associate of arts degree and to be eligible to transfer to a four-year school are not necessarily interchangeable. And financial aid is yet another bewildering, highly bureaucratic, thicket.

Colleges with more counselors have better transfer rates.

The story ends with Omari Trice, 30, who transferred from Trade-Tech to UCLA, and now counsels students on how to transfer.

(Trice) received a photography certificate from Trade-Tech but was disappointed by how little it helped in the job market, he said. After visiting Africa with Habitat for Humanity, he returned to the community college and then transferred to UCLA, where he is majoring in black history.

“The sky’s the limit,” he said.

With a bachelor’s in black history?

A task force will work on improving the transfer process. If transfer works, then students have a low-cost route to a four-year degree. If not, costs go way up and graduates are stuck with huge loans they’ll have trouble paying.

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  1. Cardinal Fang says:

    According to Dean Dad over at Confessions of a Community College Dean, reporters keep wanting to write stories such as the LA Times’.

    And the weird public perception of community colleges means that every time a reporter calls, we have to correct the story they’ve already written in their heads…. The story in their heads goes like this: In this recession, displaced workers are going back to school to upgrade their skills.

    But the reality is somewhat different:

    The actual story goes like this: In this recession, parents’ jobs are shaky, so they send their kids to the community college instead of the local private college to save money. (Contrary to the prewritten story, the average age of our students continues to drop.)

  2. Cardinal Fang says:

    If [transfer doesn’t work], costs go way up and graduates are stuck with huge loans they’ll have trouble paying.

    If transfer doesn’t work because the student doesn’t end up transferring, he won’t have huge loans because California community colleges, for all their flaws, are dirt cheap. If the student does end up transferring to a UC or CSU but doesn’t get a degree, he still won’t have huge loans, because UC’s fees are something around $3000/quarter. Estimated yearly cost of attendance at UCLA, for example, is around $25K, including some $12K or so living expenses.

  3. Interesting article. I tweeted it. Are you on twitter?? If so, find me (I tried to find you, no luck!) my twitter user name is Cramster.

  4. My son went through this, and while he didn’t rack up huge loans, the time wasted and the frustration is a big problem. Some classes are over-subscribed, so the teacher can play games with who gets to stay. Some are offered, then snatched back.

  5. Cardinal Fang says:

    KateC, what is it that your son went through? Trying to sign up for community college classes and having them cancelled? My son is going through this. He signed up for a wonderful English class– persuasive writing and argumentation, or something like that– this quarter, but two days before classes started it was cancelled and he ended up in a bogus sociology class instead.

  6. Yes, almost exactly the same. He had a math prof–who barely spoke English–make the extra students flip coins to see who got to stay. Insane. This was at Pasadena CC, which used to boast of their transfer rates, but no more. No counseling. None. His one appointment with a “counselor” got him another non-English speaker who was flummoxed that he wasn’t Chinese.

  7. —e had a math prof–who barely spoke English–make the extra students flip coins to see who got to stay. Insane.

    Why is this insane?

    It’s the definition of fair.

  8. The UC system needed a way to handle its breaking point, so several years ago it got the bright idea to siphon off students using the community college system. It’s working rather well from their standpoint.

  9. Cardinal Fang says:

    The current problem is not UC sending freshmen and sophomores to community college. That’s a good idea, for both UCs and community colleges. The problem is when the students get there they find that they can’t take the math and English classes they signed up for.

    Unfortunately, it can be difficult for a student to get the classes she needs to graduate at UCs too.

  10. Daiku Maryu says:

    I had this problem when I entered LACC twenty-four years ago. They had NO counselors available, just a few people who went around to the various Los Angeles County community colleges. They were available only to people who were going to graduate within a year, which eventually was pared down to within a semester by the time I was going to graduate. When I finally sat down with the counselor, she looked at my records and said, “Okay, so you are just getting an AA and aren’t going onto a 4-year college.”

    I said this was incorrect. We went back and forth on this for a few moments until I finally dug out the handbook I had been given when first entering LACC. Because of budget cuts, I had never been able to get another one during my years at LACC. I showed her the two side-by-side pages which laid out specifically on one page what should be taken for an AA degree only, the other page specifically listing what was required to move on to a 4-year college. The counselor looked at it and said, “This is wrong.” While I restrained myself from all sorts of things ranging from walking out to violence, she had a sudden epiphany. “Oh, this was the year when there was a misprint and the two critarias were switched, but we didn’t have the budget to reprint them.”

    The couldn’t even afford to print a one sheet of paper stating this truly massive error? The counselor reflected about how I was literally the first student she’d seen this particular semester who was planning on going to a 4-year college and bemoaned how troublesome the rest of her counseling was going to be for her before I finally focused her on MY piddling problem. We figured out that if I took seven hard-core classes during an extra semester, I could meet the requirements to apply to a University. She waived the rule restricting a maximum of 18 units.

    So, I pretty much didn’t sleep for that semester, then had to take another semester off to re-apply to the Universities who had started sending me rejection letters because of the misprint snafu.

    As an interesting and frustrating coda to all this, ten years ago I tried to take a night course at a community college to learn Spanish, which I had taken one semester of when I was 18 before switching to a different language. ALL the L.A. community colleges are linked up via computer now, and still have on record that I took Spanish 101 and therefore was not allowed to take it again despite the fact that I didn’t want it for college credits, had two degree, wanted to take it for work purposes, and that it had been around fifteen years since I had taken it the first time.

    Absolutely insane.