At age 23, I had spent most of the five years following high school working as a carpenter. Living in Wyoming, raising my son on my own, I came to the realization that I needed to go back to school and earn a college degree.
When I returned to the Central Coast, I enrolled at Cuesta College. What I encountered was a welcoming environment that made learning exciting and helped prepare me to eventually transfer to UC Berkeley and later to UC Santa Barbara where I was able to earn a doctorate.
This personal experience is one reason for my strong belief in our higher education system, especially our beleaguered community colleges.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of being elected to serve two terms as a trustee of Cuesta College. Those years on the board taught me a few things.
First, our schools and colleges need level, consistent funding. Second, educational fiefdoms hurt the students they are charged to serve. Third, academic institutions can benefit enormously by infusions of ideas and energy from outside the classroom.
Our schools and colleges waste enormous time dealing with annual swings in funding. Revenue volatility hurts the instructors, complicates labor negotiations and impacts the predictability of class availability. Hence my continued fight for a strong spending cap and rainy day fund that protects higher education from devastating boom and bust cycles.
The three-legged stool of community colleges and the California State University and the University of California systems was originally designed to work seamlessly to help students matriculate through the system, while addressing the wide range of educational goals of our diverse population.
Earlier this year, the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy reported to the Legislature on the challenges community college students face in transferring to a university.
They concluded that universities each have unique policies about coursework transferability. Because students don’t know which courses will ultimately count toward their degree, the study found that students consistently take more than the 60 units required to enter a major because they cannot be certain of acceptance at their first choice institution.
In response to these challenges, I worked to develop bipartisan legislation to streamline higher education pathways for students. Our bill, SB 1440, creates a consistent community college associates degree that will qualify a student to transfer into any CSU baccalaureate program.
The bill requires the CSU to guarantee admission with junior status to any community college student who obtains this transfer degree. And importantly, the bill rewards community college transfer students by granting priority admission to a CSU. This bill is supported by the community colleges, CSUs, the California Teachers Association, the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges and the California Federation of Teachers.
Our universities and high-tech industries can benefit from closer collaborations that generate infusions, new ideas and financial investments that improve educational outcomes. Creative partnerships can produce key breakthroughs in medicine, material science, renewable energy and computing.
Strengthening relationships between departments and potential employers can also help focus the curriculum to ensure that our students are graduating with the skills necessary to compete in the workplace.
Some of the most compelling courses are taught by those who have practiced and honed their skills outside a purely academic setting. Although I am a strong supporter of pure and theoretical research, especially in the UC system, we need to ensure that our schools are principally designed to serve the needs of its students.
To learn more about Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee’s views, go to www.blakesleeforsenate.com.