The Shakeout

seismographMany of us in California recently participated in “The Great Shakeout,” an annual state-wide earthquake drill. It’s an event that helps raise awareness of the challenges of living in a place where the ground below us can shift at anytime. At the risk of tempting fate, I can say much the same about the transfer process from California Community Colleges to four-year universities.

Recent years have seen seismic shifts in the transfer process as classes and support services were cut, and impaction levels reached new highs. This environment of reduced resources was fertile ground for those advocating the completion agenda and an overhaul of the once lofty Master Plan for Higher Education. To stretch my metaphor a little more, I liken the Master Plan to a classic building, a beautiful monument that has inspired many, but one that is in need of seismic reinforcing. The ground has shifted beneath it, and this structure that was meant to offer access and opportunity to everyone now sits on a foundation that is full of cracks. While the structure still stands and continues to serve students admirably, navigating those cracks in the system can be challenging.

Along came SB 1440, the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, and its recently passed follow-up, SB-440, creating a system of Associate Degrees for Transfer and launching a cottage industry of degree name acronyms – AA-T/AS-T, ADT, STAR degrees, SB-1440 degrees, etc. These AA-T/AS-T degrees provide guaranteed admission to the Cal State University system, allow students to simplify their ed plans by using the same major preparation courses for all twenty-three CSU campuses, and give some students a bump in admission priority for impacted campuses and majors. Along with SB1440, the Student Success Act of 2012 (SB-1456) is also being implemented with the goals of restructuring student support services, standardizing assessment tools, and requiring certain benchmarks for student success. It’s clear that these requirements will also lead to new levels of accountability for community colleges, and this accountability will in turn be tied to funding.

Returning to the metaphor, it’s a bit as if the legislature recognized the cracks in the foundation and decided to pour a mix of AA-T and Student Success concrete over the top of it. Hopefully this mix will solidify into a smooth, strong structure that we can build on for many years to come, but in the short term it has created a system that is arguably more difficult than ever to negotiate. Many of us are all too familiar with the blank stares or looks of utter confusion from our students as we try to explain the labyrinth of options and requirements they currently face. The bills also created an even heavier workload for faculty, staff, and administrators at a time when our resources were already stretched to the breaking point.

Fortunately, if there’s one thing we’re good at in California it’s keeping our feet while the ground moves beneath us. The tremors may continue for a while, but eventually it will all shake itself out.

By Robert Waldren

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