California community college faculty and community members questioned this week whether draft recommendations from a task force aimed at increasing student success could have negative consequences for groups that receive special services, such as English as a Second Language students, CalWORKs recipients and foster care parents.
Representatives from the 20-member Student Success Task Force and the chancellor’s office have been canvassing the state to get feedback on a plan they hope will help more students earn degrees or certificates, transfer to four-year universities and navigate college more successfully.
The task force will present a final set of recommendations to the Board of Governors in December, along with a report to the state Legislature by March 2012. Ultimately, the Board of Governors would have to vote on the recommendations. Some of the proposals would require legislative changes. Others would require additional funding.
On Wednesday, task force member and Merced College President Benjamin Duran joined Chancellor Jack Scott and Executive Vice Chancellor for Programs Erik Skinner at Fresno City College to address a crowd of about 150 people.
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One of the report’s more controversial recommendations would take eight separate programs that have their own strict funding streams and lump them together into one big, flexible pot. These include programs such as basic skills, California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids, or CalWORKs, and foster care.
The idea is that this big pot, which would be named the Student Support Initiative, would give colleges the flexibility to target the money on student success strategies that best fit their schools. Colleges wouldn’t be required to change how much they fund each of these programs, but they would have more discretion.
But several people in the audience expressed concern that their program would see a reduction in funding as a result.
One foster parent from Fresno said the recommendation could devastate the Foster and Kinship Care Education Program, which provides education and support for foster parents and providers of kinship care — full-time care of children by their relatives — so that they can meet the special needs of these children.
The colleges now get $5.2 million in state Proposition 98 funds for the program. That expenditure helps the state draw down federal funds under Title IV-E, and the colleges also receive a chunk of that money for the foster kinship program, about $5 million.
Sue Shaw, coordinator of the Foster and Kinship Care Education Program at Fresno City College, said she’s worried that if the community colleges reduce the amount of money they spend on foster care, the federal government would provide fewer matching funds for the program, doubling the impact of the cuts.
“We’ve heard that around the state on a number of programs,” said Skinner, the executive vice chancellor. “I can assure you that the college presidents on the task force have expressed strongly that foster care programs would be the types of programs that would continue.”
Chancellor Scott told Shaw that the change would require legislation and that concerns like hers would come up at legislative committee hearings.
One of the report’s recommendations proposes changing the law to limit state funding for non-credit classes to only those identified as career development or college preparation. The idea was to stop subsidizing recreational classes, such as arts for seniors. But some non-credit ESL courses would be caught in the same net, Skinner said.
Scott indicated that the task force would possibly clarify the recommendations to protect ESL.
“As we’ve tested these, one or two have unintended consequences we didn’t realize,” he said. “ESL is one of them. There was no intention of eliminating ESL non-credit courses.”