Santa Barbara City College President Lori Gaskin took her plans to the people, holding three public forums about the reorganization of the Continuing Education (CE) division in the past two weeks. At those sessions, she shared details she had not previously revealed — namely the proposed elimination of 15 positions.
Those cuts will result from the removal of “redundancies” when many of the courses — including ESL, GED, adult high school, and short-term vocational — are integrated into the Educational Programs division, or in other words, combined with the credit side of the college. Currently, CE, a k a Adult Ed, operates like a totally separate institution. The State Legislature has mandated that the above courses be prioritized over “community service” courses. As Gaskin put it at the second forum, held at the Schott Center last Wednesday night, “When fiscal austerity confronts us … the priorities get more intense.” And prioritized above all continuing education courses are vocational and transfer credit courses.
Because colleges statewide have been forced to cut their offerings, enrollment in the California Community Colleges (CCC) system is down 500,000 the past three years with almost another half a million students currently on waitlists. SBCC is offering 117 fewer credit sections than last fall. It is still a bit early to tell how much lower City College’s enrollment will be, but Executive Vice President Jack Friedlander estimated that about 1,500 students will be affected — either because they can’t enroll or because they can’t register for all the classes they need to stay on schedule. Interestingly, although enrollment is down — by about 1.66 percent as of press time — students are taking more courses on average. Friedlander does not yet know why, although he suspects more students who wish to earn four-year degrees are beginning their college careers at community colleges.
New regulations approved this week by the CCC’s board will give a break to students who are on course to receive a degree or certificate. Registration priority will be given to new students who complete a matriculation process including attending an orientation and developing an education plan. Continuing students who are sticking to their plan will also be moved to the head of the line. Kicked to the back will be those who have earned more than 100 credits. These changes will go live in 2014. In the meantime, colleges will need to implement software that can compare a student’s plan to her course-taking behavior, according to Friedlander.
Enrollment is lagging in Continuing Education, as well. Those courses not being integrated with the credit division will eventually all be fee-based and administered by a new entity called the Center for Lifelong Learning (CLL) to be run by an executive director and which will employ a dedicated fundraiser to defray student costs.
According to an email distributed by a community group called the Association of Continuing Education Students last week, “Only 100 classes out of the nearly 450 classes offered in the fields of Arts and Crafts, Fitness and Psychology, Humanities, Parenting, etc. have the 20 or more students enrolled required to ensure that the class is not canceled.” A Continuing Education staffer said that after Monday, the first day of the Continuing Education semester, 26 classes did not enroll the 20 students necessary to avoid cancellation. That number has likely risen every day since.
Students can choose to “buy out” open seats in their classes. That is, they can all split one or more enrollment fee so the class makes its quota, on paper at least. Gaskin is not a fan of that practice and hopes it will not continue when Lifelong Learning is up and running. While many adult education students are on board with the idea, they are worried that, in the intervening year before it commences, Continuing Education will lose students who are unwilling or unable to pay higher fees for classes.
There are also several details that still need to get worked out. How much will instructors be paid? More than the rumored $28 per hour, said Friedlander, although the exact method of compensation has yet to be decided. What is a fair price to charge for classes? Friedlander said that the aim is $4 per hour, about half the state average for such courses, but that also depends on how much seed money the college can raise for the CLL. Concerns were also raised about the equitability of the new center.
Barbara Lotito, who teaches Spanish classes for CE and was a member of a citizen-led advisory committee on the reorganization, worried that the loss of current staff would precipitate a loss of expertise in communicating with the Latino community. She also voiced a desire for bilingual courses in the CLL.
Adult education has a vibrant history in Santa Barbara, offering work for artists, social opportunities for seniors, and intellectual stimulation for the terminally curious. But, said CE instructor Gloria Arenson, “We are so spoiled. … If [CE] is important to you, you have to put your money where your interests are.”
The SBCC Board of Trustees will discuss Gaskin’s suggestions on September 13 and vote on implementation on September 27.