Underage Students

December
2006
Beth Smith, Educational Policies Committee

In Fall 2001, a resolution called for the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges to develop a paper outlining practices and recommendations to assist local senates with addressing issues raised by admitting minor students to colleges. Not long after that in 2003, a task force of the Consultation Council was created to investigate the same issues. Finally in Fall 2005, the Educational Policies Committee was assigned to write a paper on the subject, and Minors on Campus: Underage Students at Community Colleges, was adopted at the Fall 2006 Plenary Session.

Enrollment data from last year show approximately 73,000 students under the age of 18 enrolled in California community colleges. Of this number only 19,083 had already graduated from high school, and more than 2,500 were under 14. Given that students under the age of 18 are legally considered minors, community college faculty and staff are often uncertain about their roles and responsibilities concerning these students.

Laws governing the opportunities for minors on community college campuses and the responsibilities colleges have for them while they are enrolled come from California Education Code, California Penal Code, and California Welfare and Institutions Code.

Education Code 76001 and 76002 authorize colleges to admit minors but also permit colleges to establish criteria for admission based on age, grade level, and eligibility. Penal Code 11165 and 11166 include information about child abuse reporting and state that faculty and any community college employee who has direct contact with enrolled minors are considered mandated reporters. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) makes it clear that only a student can authorize release of his/her community college records.

Issues related to minors on community college campuses can be divided into three areas: parental issues, health and safety issues, and curricular issues.

While parents are expected to be involved in a child's decisions to attend a community college, FERPA prevents a parent from accessing a student's grade records without the student's permission. Parents also need to know that admission to a college is not the same as enrollment in a specific course. Many colleges reserve permission to allow enrollment in a course to the instructor.

Faculty are not obligated to act in loco parentis for minors in their classes. Such students are expected to take primary responsibility for their own safety and conduct. However, faculty are required by law to report suspected child abuse. Some colleges identify minors on course rosters with a special notation.

Admissions offices generally prepare orientation packets for minors (also known as "special admits") and their parents that make it clear that minors are entering an adult environment. Faculty have control of course curriculum, and course syllabi represent a contract between the instructor and students in the course. Both parents and minor students need to realize that they are bound by the terms of the syllabus in order to earn a grade for the class and that parental approval of the course content or assignments is not required. Parents also need to know that student communication with counseling faculty is confidential.

The local academic senate should work with relevant college constituents to create clear policies for the enrollment of minors, including an affirmation that enrollment in a specific course is dependent on instructor approval. Other areas that should be covered include policies explicitly addressing the participation of minors in international programs, athletics, and performing arts. Faculty should also be involved in the development of orientations for minors and their parents.

In addition to recommendations regarding the involvement of faculty in developing board policies related to the admission and enrollment of minors, the paper includes recommendations for mandated reporter training regarding child abuse for all faculty and clear notification of faculty when there are minors in their courses.

The State Academic Senate should work with the System Office for legal clarification on issues of liability related to having minors enrolled on campus and bring the work of the 2003 Minors in Higher Education Task Force to the Consultation Council for review and consideration of further action.

Local senates are encouraged to share the adopted paper with faculty, administrators and trustees, and student leaders. Conversations about minor students and other minors on campus should begin in local senates as soon as possible, professional development opportunities should be arranged to discuss child abuse reporting, and discipline faculty should consider reviewing courses to determine if any age restrictions are appropriate. The local senate can also provide input to other college programs and functions, such as student government and the faculty perspective regarding minors and minor students on campus. It is recommended that senates first review all local board policies that address children on campus, admission and enrollment, and then recommend appropriate modifications to strengthen the authority of faculty in the classroom.

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