Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

California Community Colleges

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

California Community Colleges

Article excerpt

I recently read that twice as many California community college students were unable to enroll in the coui-ses they wanted than the national average. That is not the only crack in the educational armor built over many decades - just the most recent one, Since the vast majority of Hispanics in California begin tlieir higher education journeys at a community college, changes there are of importance to us.

There was a time when California led the nation with its exceptional community college system. Today that system encompasses nearly 120 colleges - all devoted to their local communities.

It all began with an ambitious post-World War II higher education master plan, California was the first state to not only recognize the potential of community colleges but to embrace them.

Three Segments

The master plan addressed higher education in three segments. At the pinnacle was the elite University of California network It would offer liighquality education and conduct strategic research. Aside from societal benefits and personal enrichment goals, it was also hoped that these quality institutions would serve as magnets to attract flourishing industries to California.

The desire to shake off the nation's disdain for higher education institutions not "born and bred" in the Northeast was evident in the many planning discussions hosted throughout the state. Pride, coming of age were important undeipinnings in the creation of the master plan.

The second tier, the California State University system, would serve high-quality students but not focus on research.

Finally, it was decided that public higher education should be available to everyone. Thus they should be inexpensive, "within an easy daily commute" and "accessible to all who want to study."

Those noble goals would be the guiding principles of California's community college system, For decades, tuition was zero and fees were kept very low. As late as the early 1980s, tuition was only five dollars a credit.

Not to be held back while waiting for bricks and mortar, courses were offered long before the campuses were built, Local high schools frequently hosted evening and weekend programs. Although Ihe emphasis was on college-transfer programs, nonacademic credit offerings exploded. They addressed virtually every local community need or desire. In meeting those wishes, die colleges built close emotional service ties to their particular communities. Thus it became easy to secure local support for new campuses and programs.

College boards of trustees were elected, not appointed, so local interests could be better represented. Many budding politicians cut their teeth by being elected to their local community college board. The present governor, Jerry Brown, who was also governor a few decades ago, got his start in politics by heing elected to the Los Angeles Com munit)· College Board of Trustees. (The fact that his father had been a popular governor did not hurt his election chances.)

Fresh Opportunities

The communi tv college open admissions policy meant that it was no longer necessary for a student to have been a stellar lugli school student or even to have graduated from high school to attend college,

"Open admissions" meant just that. Late bloomers, housewives displaced or otherwise, those seeking a second career or those brushing up on Lheir present line of work - and in fact everybody and anybody was welcome to come.

The philosophy, adopted nationwide, was nuitured in part by the fact that many veterans had volunteered to serve before finishing lugli school. Other non-high school graduates had been drafted, There was a widespread feeling spearheaded by President Truman that veterans should be afforded an opportunity to seek a college education regardless of their academic record. It was the American way, at least the new American way.

California adopted those egalitarian premises with passion and commitment. …

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