Revisiting the 50% Law: Its Intent and Its Future

ASCCC North Representative, ASCCC Legislative and Advocacy Committee
Woodland College, ASCCC Legislative and Advocacy Committee
City College of San Francisco, ASCCC Legislative and Advocacy Committee

Full-time faculty in the California Community Colleges system live on two sides of California Education Code §84362, colloquially known as the 50% Law. This law requires that 50% of a district’s expenses be expended on salaries of cl assroom instructors. Classroom faculty are included on the instructional side of the law, while the other side includes support faculty such as counselors, librarians, tutorial coordinators, and any other faculty not actively in a classroom as well as other college operating expenses. While in theory this separation may be reasonable, the reality is that student success is not only about the classroom experience. With the outcome emphasis of the CCC Chancellor’s Office Vision for Success, guided pathways, and the Student-Centered Funding Formula, the system’s focus has shifted to personalized wrap-around services for students. These wrap-around services require a coalition of faculty to support each student, faculty from both sides of the 50% Law. The law may therefore be a fiscal and structural barrier to student support. The California Community Colleges system needs to finally have the difficult conversation about the 50% Law.


The intent of the 50% Law, to spend at least 50% of a district’s budget inside the classroom, has been essential in growing instructional programs at the California community colleges. Since the law’s enactment in 1961, many instructional faculty were hired and programs were created or expanded to meet increasing regional and local community needs, all the while community colleges strive to fulfill their missions. This structure brought opportunities for more students to pursue their educational goals. However, over time colleges have become aware that what happens in the classroom is only one part of the student journey to achieve these educational outcomes. Many students begin their education with great dreams of achieving a specific goal—such as a certificate, a degree, transfer, or skill-building—but are unable to complete without the various support systems colleges provide outside of the classroom. In sum, students need support inside and outside the classroom, including the support of non-instructional faculty members, to thrive and succeed.


Holistic student support has become the focus for many institutions. This focus requires a partnership between instructional and non-instructional faculty members to personalize support for each student, at scale, while also being mindful of equity implications. No single faculty member or group of faculty members can do this alone. This effort is, and should be, college-wide and system-wide. Through the guided pathways framework, each college is re-examining practices and structures to address student barriers. One of the identified barriers is the siloing of faculty into the dichotomy of instructional and non-instructional, thereby creating an artificial distinction. The planned synergy of this work cannot be done without equal support for all who are engaged in these efforts.


Counselors in particular were negatively impacted by the 50% law. Counselors, because they do not count on the instructional side of the law, are often the last hired and first fired when budget cuts are necessary. This issue is acute for part-time counselors. Many counselors, and often other resource faculty, are not eligible for tenure due to their categorical funding source outside of the general fund. Categorical funding is not as stable as general fund budgets, so colleges are reluctant to grant tenure to faculty not supported with general funds. In addition to this barrier, the role of counselors has changed in the past decade with the increased focus on counseling in multiple initiatives such as the Student Equity and Achievement Program. The guided pathways framework has also changed the role of counselors to a more laborintensive case management and success team model. This new focus has expanded the role of counselors, but the 50% Law currently creates a barrier to hiring needed counseling positions and providing them the protection of tenure.


The call to reexamine the 50% Law is not new, but previous efforts were unsuccessful. However, at this time, the system needs to formally start the conversation on alternatives and the viability of recommendations. In 2015, a workgroup on California Community Colleges regulations, consisting of appointed faculty and administrators and sanctioned by CCC Chancellor Brice Harris, came together to explore regulatory issues and make recommendations. The workgroup presented its proposal in 2016, and that proposal was updated in 2019 with “The 50% Law and the Faculty Obligation Number: An Updated Proposal.”[1] The workgroup found that instructional practices have changed since the creation of the 50% Law; they have become a shared activity between instruction and support with an increasing focus on services that actively support student success.

The workgroup affirmed the essential role of the 50% Law but called for a reconsideration of the percentage and a redefinition of the expenses considered to be instructional in nature to include costs that directly impact “instruction and learning.” These costs would include the following:

  • faculty working outside of the classroom but playing a direct role in the education of
  • faculty who provide educational services directly to students,
  • governance activities that directly impact the education of students, and
  • professional activities that pertain to curriculum.

These recommendations support the crucial role of non-instructional faculty members. The report clearly stated that “Counselors and librarians are faculty members who serve necessary functions for the instruction of students, whether inside or outside the classroom.” The workgroup also recommended that tutorial support and resigned time for instructional and curricular development and for academic senate governance activities should be included in the calculation. These recommendations have not received traction in the system.


This call for a reexamination of the 50% Law is not intended to negatively impact the hiring of faculty and spending for instruction. In fact, to achieve equity and faculty diversification goals, the system needs more focused spending on hiring faculty. Those faculty need to be supported with the right to tenure-track positions. The goal is to redefine instruction under a holistic student support model that reflects the realities of student needs for personalized support to achieve their educational goals. In this time when colleges are dismantling barriers, the system needs a re-examination of the 50% Law.

1. The original proposal may be found in the May 2016 Rostrum article “The 50% Law and Faculty Obligation Number:
A Proposal” at The updated proposal form 3=2019 is available at…