California's community colleges should concentrate on preparing students either to transfer to four-year universities or for specific jobs, a state higher education review commission says in draft report to the Legislature.
Noting that the two-year schools have offered courses in everything from basic reading to aerobics, the commission said it is "convinced that colleges cannot successfully be all things to all people."
The Master Plan Review Commission, which has examined the community colleges over the last year, concludes that they should be viewed more like the state universities and not like high schools or "branches of the parks and recreation department," as one official put it.
But while agreeing on their mission, the 15-member body is still divided over who should govern the two-year colleges--state officials or local boards. "That's the area where we're still having trouble," said Lee Kerschner, executive director of the commission. "The community colleges are state-funded, but locally run. There's no line of accountability."
Its report, due to the Legislature by the end of this month, is to be finally approved at a commission meeting in Sacramento on Wednesday.
The panel would not bar any student from enrolling in the two-year colleges, nor would it prohibit the schools from offering non-collegiate courses. But it recommends that the remedial courses for students who do not measure up to college-level standards should be limited, and that recreational or avocational courses be paid for by the students who take them.
"Remediation is an important function, but only as a way to help students reach collegiate skills," Kerschner said. "It should not be an end in itself."
Adult students needing help in basic English or similar skills should be enrolled in adult education programs run through the public schools, the report says.
On the issue of governance, the state's Little Hoover Commission, in a separate report to the Legislature last week, also charged that there is "no central point of accountability" for the community colleges.
"We began our study by asking the most basic management question--who is financially accountable and who is ultimately in charge of the more than $1 billion in state monies spent each year in the community colleges?" said Nathan Shapell, chairman of Hoover panel. "No one could provide a clear answer."
Last month, the Master Plan Commission set off howls of protest among local elected community college trustees by suggesting that their jobs be eliminated. In an earlier draft report, it was proposed, as one of several options, that the state be divided into 12 college regions, with each unit to be run by an administrator appointed by statewide Chancellor Joshua Smith. This would strip the locally elected boards of their main functions.
In what was a fairly typical reaction, Marilee Morgan, president of the Rio Hondo College board in Whittier, likened the plan to "Dr. Frankenstein creating a monster." She added that she and her fellow board members were astonished "at the sheer idiocy of moving total control of the colleges away from the constituencies they were created to serve" and instead setting up "a quasi-dictatorship" in Sacramento.
Trustees charged that the proposed reorganization would sacrifice local control for state control.
Under the proposed regional plan, "The local citizens would be far removed from affecting the decisions about their local community colleges," said David Viar, director of the California Community College Trustees Assn.
However, the regional governance plan reportedly lost favor within the commission after Smith, the state chancellor, voiced his opposition.
"I think it would be tremendously disruptive to the system and cause the academic reforms to be sidetracked," Smith said in a telephone interview. He noted, for example, that the commission would require colleges to give placement testing to new teachers and to collect data on how students fare later after leaving the colleges.
"I think these reforms are too important to be set aside while people wrangle over turf," Smith said.
Rather than trying to settle the issue as planned next week, Smith said he would urge the panel to "take a longer look at this. After all, they (Founding Fathers) took the whole summer to revise the Articles of Confederation, and they were only dealing with 13 separate states rather than 70."
He referred to the 70 community college districts in California, each of which has an independently elected board that appoints the college administrators.
Kerschner said the commission agrees that it wants to give more power to the state Board of Governors and the state chancellor--a governance plan that would look more like the University of California and the California State University systems. But the members have not settled on specific plan, he said.