Despite recent legislation that promises them a bigger role in the
state's two-year colleges, California faculty continue to face
obstacles to shared governance.
California's community colleges make up the largest system of higher education in the world. With 2.5 million students at 108 colleges, the system's mission is complex: we offer general education and the two-year associate degree, prepare students who plan to transfer to four-year colleges or universities, and serve students seeking occupational education and certification, a single class to upgrade a skill, or simply enrichment. Among those 2.5 million students are many who need to do further precollegiate work and a large contingent-one in five-who are recent immigrants or English-language learners.
Most of our students are older than those in traditional fouryear institutions of higher education, attend part time (73 percent), work (80 percent), have significant family responsibilities, and are men or women of color (over 55 percent). As A New Look at the California Community Colleges: Keeping the Promise, a 2002 report, pointed out, 75 percent of the students of color who are pursuing higher education in California are enrolled in the community college system. We are, quite simply, a gateway institution-to higher education, employment, the opportunity for a living wage, and a richer, more satisfying life.
We face daunting obstacles, the lack of adequate resources being the most devastating. Funding for California's community colleges is among the lowest nationwide; we hover about $2,500 below the national average in per-student spending and significantly below the rates at the two university systems in California-the University of California and the California State University-as well as the rates in the K-12 sector. Our average class size is some ten students above the national average, and community college faculty teach the equivalent of fifteen units every semester.
Yet the community colleges educate most of those who provide essential public services-fire, police, emergency medical, and nursing-care personnel-as well as those who maintain the state's basic infrastructure-electrical workers, plumbers, and providers of information-technology services.
And community college students who transfer to the state's four-year universities do as well as or better than students who begin their college education at the universities, as measured by grade point averages. In recent years, 60 percent of the students who have graduated from the California State University system and 30 percent of those who have earned bachelor's degrees from the University of California have been community college transfer students.
Moreover, we are well thought of-polling data consistently show high levels of public support for the community colleges. But we have not succeeded in translating that esteem into sufficient fiscal support for our colleges. We continue to absorb growing numbers of students, while funding falls further behind; projected enrollments are off the charts. That we do what we do is actually quite miraculous.
The California community colleges underwent a massive and comprehensive reform with the passage of legislation in the late 1980s. A remarkable achievement, the legislation defined the multiple missions of the colleges, their place within the state's Master Plan for Higher Education, and the centrality of these institutions to the overall quality of life in California.
The reform (often referred to by its legislative designation, "AB1725") was wide-ranging, affecting everything from funding formulas to system governance. It moved the colleges away from their K-12 roots, raised minimum qualifications for faculty, extended probation for new faculty members from two to four years, strengthened faculty evaluation through mandated peer review, and established expectations and funding streams for faculty professional development and curricular innovation. …