The Accelerated Learning College, California Leadership Alliance for Student Success, and Embracing Faculty Leadership

Academic Senate President
Chair, Curriculum Committee

By now most community college faculty leaders have gotten used to the chorus of voices that want to fix community colleges, generally based on the assumption that colleges should do more with the same resources, or more recently, that colleges should do more with fewer resources. Whether it’s the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy, the Hewlett Foundation, the Campaign for College Opportunity, or (most recently), the California Leadership Alliance for Student Success, these organizations and initiatives have all demonstrated a troubling ability to propose changes to California law and regulation without so much as a nod toward the state Academic Senate, the organization that represents the 60,000 faculty who actually teach, counsel and support California’s diverse community college student population.

It is certainly not the case that the Academic Senate believes all existing laws, regulations and practices are flawless; Academic Senate resolutions regularly recommend modification that faculty believe will allow them to educate students more effectively (e.g. see this Rostrum’s article on the Senate’s work on prerequisites). It is the case, however, that the Senate believes that recognition of both faculty expertise and trust in the ability of community college constituency groups to work together provide the most promising pathway to enhanced student success.

Two recent initiatives to modify California law and regulation come from the Accelerated Learning College (ALC) proposal and the California Leadership Alliance for Student Success (CLASS). The ALC proposal is sponsored by four community college districts and seeks legislative “relief ” from over a score of Education Code statutes and over half a dozen Title 5 regulations. The goal of the ALC initiative is to allow colleges to collect apportionment for students who complete an academic term (whether successful or not) in order to see if colleges who are rewarded for completion can gradually improve student success. The opportunities to be extended to ALC colleges (proposed as a maximum of four districts) include: the ability to charge and retain student fees; exemption from the 50% law; the authority to determine minimum qualifications for instruction locally; to allow administrators to serve as academic employees in tutoring centers; the right to self certify courses for transferability to the UC and CSU; the authority for districts to approve courses and programs without Chancellor’s office or CEPC approval.

While the authors of the ALC proposal acknowledge the importance of involving local faculty, and the ALC proposal makes it clear that the agreement of the local academic senate and bargaining agent would be required before legislated relief could be locally implemented, this initiative proposes strategies that to many faculty are frightening. And while this pilot project would occur in four districts, the long-term goal is permanent, statewide, mandated change.

The full name of the CLASS Initiative, California Leadership Alliance for Student Success, seems ironic in that the initiative is directed by the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin. Unlike the ALC, however, the CLASS initiative does little to acknowledge the role of faculty leaders (and for that matter, state level administrative leaders) in California community colleges. The CLASS project is aimed at community college presidents, chancellors and board of trustee members; indeed, the local governing board is expected to adopt a resolution “in full support of the California Leadership Alliance for Student Success” (the language is quoted from a “Sample Board of Trustees Resolution” provided to participants). The project aims to strengthen college leadership to effect student success, but that leadership does not include faculty in the project’s design.

While the CLASS Project is focused on the pledging of local research resources and the commitment of local leadership to monthly meetings focused on discussion and analysis of local student success data, the project organizers have also provided a 15 point policy grid with specific state policy recommendation that appear unconnected with the local research component of the project. Among the policy recommendations are #4, “Increase Student Fees”; #6, “Amend [but not abandon] the 50% law”; #8, “Standardize Assessment Instruments,” and #11, “Develop Transfer Associate Degrees.” The CLASS initiative has already begun to roll out on some campuses with the local emphasis placed on the data collection and analysis portion of the project; faculty have been positive on the campuses where the unveiling has taken place, though little has been said locally about the initiative’s broader policy agenda.

It should be emphasized that it is not the policy agenda per se that the Senate finds objectionable, but the structuring of the initiative to involve CEO and trustees and not to involve faculty. Although we must remember that other states do not have Education Code and Title 5 that lay out the local and state roles for faculty in academic and professional matters, this must not be seen as an excuse for initiatives that bypass faculty. It’s clear that CLASS sponsors are aware of the existence of the Academic Senate, since policy initiative #10 refers to an Academic Senate project in English composition. Indeed, there are a number of proposals in both the ALC and CLASS documents that the Senate would enthusiastically support (they are consistent with adopted resolutions), and others in which the initiatives’ authors might invite the Senate to reconsider its past positions. The Senate does have a long history of working collaboratively, even with groups with whom we have areas of disagreement.

While a pessimist might raise concerns about possible hidden agendas in these initiatives, an optimist could say that the colleges would do well to try some new approaches. However, to the extent that any organization really hopes to improve educational outcomes for California community college students, there really is no way they can avoid working with faculty. We are clear about that; others may not be. The announced intent of the ALC colleges to work with their senates and bargaining agents and the commitment of the CLASS Project to using data to identify possible interventions to promote student success may indeed be promising; however, a critical ingredient—faculty leadership in the design as well as the implementation—has yet to be realized.