At every ASCCC Plenary Session, you see some resolutions you know are going to be “interesting” and those that you expect to be relatively non-controversial. And then some resolutions take you by surprise, where impassioned debate occurs and you sometimes struggle to understand why. This was the case with the final resolution we considered at our Fall 2012 session, one that was effectively amended so as to lose its original meaning as the following phrase was struck from the final perfected and adopted resolution:
Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges urge local senates to assist their colleges in establishing cooperative relationships with the other colleges in their areas to coordinate schedules as necessary to ensure that courses required for major preparation are offered by at least one college in the area during any given term or year.
From my vantage point, I was supportive of this resolve clause, as it is important that we, as faculty, look for ways to better serve our students; if we are not offering a course in a certain term and we know we have students that need it, we should help them find it. Above all, we need to be certain that the interests of students are guiding our decision-making, as opposed to our own self-interests. The main concern that I heard from the floor during the debate was that administrations might use this position in nefarious ways. Every now and then this issue arises: the idea that our positions can be misconstrued and used for destructive means by zealous administrators and boards. If you exist in such a culture, be sure to keep a stack of resolutions handy that are regularly ignored so that you can ensure that the adherence to our positions is consistent.
Because I was surprised by the concern elicited by the proposed position, I followed up with two individuals who expressed objections with the expectation that I would hear an array of considerations that faculty should have in mind if they were to work with colleges in their region to facilitate student access to courses that were not readily available. Interestingly, the first concern shared was related to enrollment management, a recent focus of a Student Success Task Force recommendation “summit” on Recommendation 4.1 (Align Course Offerings to Meet Students’ Needs). The concern was about “imposing an enrollment management, one size-fits-all model on all the colleges in the state. Whatever we do, we need to provide options for colleges to best serve their students and their communities while we maintain the principles of enrollment management per college (not district) that has been outlined in our own adopted State Senate papers.” Personally, I view adherence to these principles as a given and in no way inconsistent with the proposal to coordinate with others. But one can certainly understand that if faculty have felt district-level pressure to conform to an imposed approach to scheduling, the concern over a state-level model is a very real one. Incidentally, nothing along these lines was produced at the summit – or even hinted at.
The other person I contacted offered up ten reasons for his concern, beginning with the expectation that we would be encouraging students to attend multiple colleges and interfering with the attachment to a single college and the sense of community that we all know is so critical to student success. Many of his concerns related to issues surrounding attending more than one college; however, if you cannot provide what students need when they need it, would it not make sense to help them find it elsewhere? No doubt we would prefer to be able to serve all of our students all of the time. But in the end, our primary goal should be to ensure that students are well served as opposed to served by our college. Suggesting some measure of coordination is not a proposal to create a complex process where students are compelled to be freeway flyers with no allegiance to a home college – far from it. Students “swirling” among colleges is certainly not preferred, and practices that aim to encourage it should not become the norm.
I am not a slippery slope sort of person, but recent conversations have helped me to understand why so many people rush to positions based on the most extreme outcome possible. In a single meeting I heard one person propose that we stop offering basic skills courses and another that we mandate completing basic skills completion in the first year, as well as a dismissal of the notion of prerequisites as an organic way to make that happen. All of these ideas were brought up at the summit about aligning course offerings to meet student needs; none of them has anything to do with better aligning offerings. My point is that faculty should be taking the lead, doing whatever needs to be done to better serve students. This could be as simple as talking to colleges in your area and ensuring that your offerings are staggered so that four colleges are not teaching the same course they each offer once every two years in the same term; that’s the reasonable level of collaboration I hope we can all agree on. It also might mean instituting enrollment management criteria – such as prioritizing course offerings based on quantitative criteria – as a means of demonstrating that we are aligning course offerings with students’ needs. I am confident that we do this at least 90% of the time now; by working together, we can improve that final 10%.
The Academic Senate’s 2009 paper on enrollment management, Enrollment Management Revisited, is a resource to review as colleges consider how they prioritize course offerings. This paper makes the following recommendations to academic senates:
- The academic senate should create a forum to review the policies and procedures for enrollment management at the college/district.
- Academic senates should consider the recommendations from the 1999 paper The Role of Academic Senates in Enrollment Management. Those recommendations are still relevant and can help to inform local enrollment management conversations.
- Academic senates should make the case for why faculty should participate both in enrollment management policy development and decision-making. Title 5 §53200 says that the academic senate’s roles include responsibility for recommendations about academic and professional matters, curriculum, educational program development, standards and policies regarding student preparation and success as well as processes for planning and budget.
- The academic senate should initiate changes to the current enrollment management policy/processes if any of them are not providing students with an education of the highest quality.
- The academic senate should clarify with others which decisions should be primarily the purview of the academic senate versus those that an enrollment management committee (with academic senate representation) should decide.
- In any enrollment management or scheduling procedures, general questions such as the following should be asked:
- Who is making the decisions about scheduling classes, including delivery mode and length of the courses? What is the faculty role? Why are courses scheduled in a particular mode or time frame? Is the decision based on academic judgment?
- Where and when are enrollment management and scheduling decisions made—-in silos that do not communicate with one another, such as in administrator meetings and faculty department meetings separately? Or are decisions made in a concerted, thoughtful, data and policy-driven manner?
- What class schedule produces the most success for students? The answer can vary for different populations of students and for different courses; only faculty can make the pedagogical determination. Local senates can make the case that because these questions are “academic and professional” in nature, they should fall to the senate per Title 5 regulations.
- What effect on learning and student success might occur in any given scheduling scenario?
As the focus of the implementation of the Student Success Task Force recommendations shifts from student services to instruction, local senates will benefit from being proactive in exploring how they can better serve their students. Having a frank and honest discussion about enrollment management and, possibly, proposing changes in local policies and practices may be one way to take the lead in ensuring that we are doing the best by our students that we possibly can.