When the Glendale Community College Board of Trustees reported last year that more than 7% of its students transferred to four-year universities, school officials proudly noted that no other community college in Los Angeles County could boast a rate that high.
But critics of the statewide community college system have not been impressed with the transfer figures. And, when they have asked what happened to the students who did not go on to four-year schools, Glendale Community College officials--along with leaders of other two-year schools--have not been able to answer. They lack the information.
Glendale trustees are now considering a plan that might better prepare them to answer. The trustees later this month will decide whether they want to team up with a group of other community colleges to collect data about their students and about some of the schools' problems--such as low transfer rates, high dropout rates and the balance between academic and vocational classes.
Questions to Be Answered
"We've been getting a lot of potshots from people who frequently either don't know what they're talking about or don't have the perspective to say the things they've been saying," Glendale College President Rex Craig said. "And, in many cases, we've just had to sit on our hands and take the flak."
Glendale College officials said they need answers to such questions as: How many of the school's 11,000 students originally intend to go on to four-year schools? Have students been successful in meeting the goals they set when they registered? How are students' course desires changing? Are employers satisfied with the work done by the college's graduates?
School officials said that, if reliable information can be gathered to answer those questions and many more, they will be able to decide how the college's curriculum should change during the next several years. They also hope the information will provide them with ammunition to fire back at critics of community colleges.
"Right now you could say that we're a ship in the ocean, responding to whatever wind is blowing and not really knowing where we're headed," Craig said. "We need information to find out what port we're sailing for, and we have to respond to our critics who think we're lost."
Just how the college should go about collecting data has become a topic of debate on campus. Craig has proposed that Glendale Community College join a newly formed consortium run by the University of Southern California that would assist in gathering information for the college and five other two-year schools in the Los Angeles area.
Faculty members, however, were caught off guard last month when Craig asked the board of trustees to allocate $8,500 to join the consortium. Teachers argued that a faculty task force was already collecting such information. They said that hiring a group not familiar with Glendale Community College might not be in the school's best interest.
Trustees at the March 12 meeting delayed voting on the proposal and instructed administrators and faculty to meet to discuss how the research should be carried out. A final decision is expected to be made at the April 23 meeting.
Both faculty and administrators agree that so-called "institutional research" is vital to the school and has become even more important now that the community college system has come under fire and has had to deal with decreasing state funding.
Among the critics have been Gov. George Deukmejian and Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy, who has said that more students should be going on to four-year colleges.
'Caught by Surprise'
"We definitely need to do research to find out more about our students and to counter some of the criticism we've received," said Jean Lecuyer, Glendale's faculty senate president. "But Craig's proposal caught us totally by surprise. The USC group might work out very well, but we need a little time to look into it and question whether this is what Glendale needs."
Institutional research has been carried out on a small scale at community colleges throughout the state since the early 1960s, but the research jobs at the schools were among the first to be eliminated after passage of 1978's Proposition 13 tax measure.
Some of the funds have been restored, and last year trustees allocated $30,000 to hire a permanent researcher. But a full-time researcher could not be found at that salary, so college officials used part of the money to hire two part-time researchers. The rest of the money should be used now to join the consortium, Craig said.
The consortium would be run by Bill Maxwell, USC associate professor, and Stephen Sheldon, adjunct professor, who has done many studies on community colleges since 1968 and is considered a leader in the field of institutional research.
Responding to Community