Student Success, Novel Idea?

Napa Valley College, Basic Skills Committee Chair

Student success has hit the press and airwaves as though it is a new idea, an innovative concept. It is bandied about as if no one had ever thought of such a novel idea. Well, California community college faculty have always thought about and planned for student success. Faculty are dedicated to supporting and facilitating student success. In fact, student success is the core guiding principle of our work.

The California community colleges have numerous missions that have guided course offerings, program development, and provided the foundation for which student success has been gauged. Colleges have provided core work for students intending to transfer, career technical education (CTE) programs for those enriching job skills or entering a profession, and noncredit programs for students that need a program that does not follow the more traditional format. We have also provided fee based programs, contract education, lifelong learning, and concurrent enrollment. Recently it was suggested that we even offer bachelor’s degrees.

As the budget quagmire continues, our once diverse, community-serving, and responsive mission statement has been focused more narrowly. Colleges have been told to focus efforts on CTE, basic skills, and transfer. In doing so, we will actually change the role of community colleges in our communities, and we will turn even more students away. Lifelong learners, elder adults, and personal enrichment students will find little or no access to our campuses. In narrowing what missions our colleges fulfill, we are running a clear risk of decreasing the health of California’s older adults, decreasing the appropriate methods for stress reduction in those that take enrichment courses, and changing the culture of community colleges. We may even be risking our open access philosophy and decreasing overall student success. The even greater impact is that we are risking the overall emotional well being and general feelings of life satisfaction of our population. I wonder how the limiting of the mission will ultimately affect California’s future.

Faculty have many urgent and difficult discussions to have and questions to consider, questions such as “Who do we really serve?”, “Which group of students should we stop serving?”, “What is our definition of student success?”, “Who are we willing to turn away?” As we have these discussions on our campuses and as we look toward unprecedented times, it is imperative that our colleges’ decision-making processes are followed. It is essential that faculty are a core participant on campuses in all decisions covered under the 10+1. And, more importantly, faculty must not allow anyone to tell us that student success is a new idea. Faculty have always been driven by student success, and we need to assert and share our expertise. No matter what decisions are made, student success will be at the core, just as it always has been.