Access for All

May
2007
Wheeler North, Area D Representative and friends

By the time this article reaches the press the furor over the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, AKA Nancy Shulock's The Rules of the Game1 will have died down some. However, the need to address some of the problems within our system will remain-and should be addressed with an approach that respects the role community colleges are supposed to play as they maintain their commitment to access.

The Rules of the Game insinuates that the community college proviso to ensure educational access to all has a negative impact upon accountability and success and is therefore bad. "Access is Not Enough -The California Community Colleges (CCC) are providing broad access to college, but that access is not translating into degree completion-a troubling trend that could have profound repercussions."(pg 4)

Central to Ms. Shulock's proposition is that providing access is all about FTES (Full-time Student Equivalent) chasing, which grossly misses the fact that providing such access can be done badly or it can be done in a manner that promotes student success.

Enrollment and FTES development should never be a thing chased as depicted by Ms. Shulock. Effective enrollment management is what ensures "access to all" while increasing the likelihood of "success for all." It's a year-round process of comprehensive thoughtful planning that promotes a high degree of collegiality, participation and effective learning.

I'm sure you've all experienced the six-week FTES dance we all do around the beginning of each semester. Essentially we toss a number of sections into class schedules each term hoping they fill up. We then use various models of gnashing our teeth and wringing our hands until we decide that our enrollment "is what it is."

Many of us will define an average course head count value in which classes below this are canceled. A common way to arrive at this number is to create a college average based upon total FTES needed to cover all expenses. While this does determine what is needed to remain fiscally solvent, it really should have no bearing on the decision to cancel a section. Canceling a class ought to encompass a complex planning and decision process including many factors such as the impact to the students we serve and the actual impact to the budget.

Another factor used in enrollment management may be capacity. If a program's capacity doesn't meet this "average" number they will never cover their costs, so other higher capacity programs and courses will need to be offered that make up the difference.

Target productivity goals are created for a program, school or division to autonomously attain the above mentioned average, spread over a variety of section sizes.

Finally, classes are cancelled. However, what is seldom ever examined is the impact of actually canceling the class. Ostensibly, a class is cancelled to avoid expenses required to run the class. However, the only real expenses which are cut when a class is canceled are the cost of the instructor. The fixed costs will still be paid. The building will be maintained, the President will not be released, the gardeners will still garden, and the lights will still most likely stay on. If it is a contract faculty whose class is canceled then they will bump a part timer's load. So the actual savings will be roughly the course hours times the part time pay rate, or $2500.

This amount can be covered by approximately 6 students in a three-unit course. Therefore if the course has seven or more students, canceling it may actually lose the district some earnings. While it can be argued that such a course won't cover the college's total costs, canceling it will lose some earnings that can be used to offset those costs. (These are rough numbers, and vary greatly by college, but a well thought out enrollment plan will have these values well established each year)

This logic implies that an effective enrollment management plan should encompass more than just the aforementioned FTES dance. When we don't cancel a class that is below the "average" mentioned above, that gap will need to be made up somewhere with a larger class. Our planning must accommodate for these variances for us to remain fiscally solvent.

Two primary methods for closing this gap are "spend less elsewhere" and "earn more".

Walk around campus sometime to see what you could do without. High on my list are the "dignitary celebrations" that regularly pop up. Of course when I bring this up I get comments like "XYZ funds pay for this, there are no state monies going towards this!!!" That may be true but my response is "there are no limits on XYZ funds that prevent them from being used to keep a section open." Do the celebrations have value? Of course they do. But they sure aren't listed in the Education Code as one of our missions.

In the second focus area, earning more, there is a lot that can be done. But this must be done carefully and planned out all year around. Our funding model limits how much colleges can grow each year, so a 10% increase in FTES will be costly when the State only pays for 2.4% growth.

But, of the many things you can do, community advisory groups are high on the list. These are required for all vocational programs, but they can benefit any program in many ways. There is much written on this subject so I won't repeat it here; however, many programs within my division regularly receive thousands of dollars in equipment and student assistance from their advisory constituents. As well they often receive employment placement slots which does much to attract students and to promote their ultimate success (take notes here Ms. Shulock).

Developing and sustaining relationships with local high schools, particularly at the program level, can lead to increased enrollments and to better retention and persistence for those students.

And, speaking of completing or returning students, your enrollment management plan should have a separate comprehensive plan for both retention and persistence. Statewide 40% of our students don't return after their first year. Yet most of our programs are two or more year sequences; therefore a preponderance of students, far greater than 60%, should be returning after that first year.

This is where an effective student services plan needs to happen. We don't get to pick our students; we accept the top 100%, and we must be successful with whatever walks in the door. As well, students never drop while they are sitting in class. A key to retention is to establish a two-way relationship with the students, one that is independent of any one class. While there are obvious barriers we can try to reduce, some will never disappear. We must make other connections that our students value so they want to keep coming even when one or two classes aren't going the way they would like.

There must be opportunities for regular interaction, and not with just those students we identify as needing help.

All students will need some help in their stay with us. Ask yourself this; are you more likely to ask a stranger for help or someone you already know? If they are not willing to ask the instructor for help, why would they go ask a stranger? What does your college plan do to promote a high degree of student to faculty and staff interaction?

Does your college have a process for reaching out to students who self-drop or disappear, particularly those who do so late in the term? At the very least, could this be a way to get them to come back the following term? And why do we make it so easy for our students to self-drop in the first place?

To reiterate my original point, enrollment and FTES development, when done with both the issues of access and success in mind, requires college-wide participation and cooperation. The Academic Senate paper; Role of Academic Senates in Enrollment Management has more on this topic for the interested reader. (http://www.asccc.org/Publications/Papers/Role_enrollment.html)

1. Shulock, N. and Moore, C. (February 2007), Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy, California State University, Sacramento

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