SACRAMENTO — A pair of bills designed to address fundamental problems in the way California's community colleges operate received final approval Thursday in the Legislature.
Advocates of reform in the struggling two-year college system were nonetheless disappointed at what they considered the limited scope of the bills emerging from the final days of the legislative session.
One of the bills, by Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), sets in motion a process that its backers hope will lead next year to legislation changing the way the state funds the colleges as well as stiffening faculty qualifications.
Approved by the Senate on Wednesday, it was given final concurrence in the Assembly late Thursday and sent to the governor.
A second bill, by Assemblyman Robert J. Campbell (D-Richmond) and Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim), would require statewide Chancellor Joshua Smith to establish a system for assessing students' needs before they enroll in order to place them in appropriate classes and improve their chances of success. Both houses accepted amendments to the measure Thursday, sending it on to the governor.
Lee Kerschner, executive director of the state commission charged with reviewing the state's overall higher education policy, said he was delighted by the Legislature's actions because they "provide the basis for implementing a comprehensive bill" dealing with all aspects of reform next year.
However, Chancellor Smith, a former New York City college official appointed in April to revitalize the nation's largest community college system, said in an interview that he was disappointed that the Legislature has not moved more quickly toward adopting comprehensive reforms that would shift basic control of community colleges from local boards to the chancellor and a state board.
Smith said he would have been satisfied with at least "a comprehensive intent package" showing the extent to which the Legislature is willing to go to overhaul the 106-campus system.
The Legislature initiated a review of the state's higher education systems two years ago when it created the Commission for the Review of the Master Plan for Higher Education. The commission issued a final report of its recommendations in April.
A joint committee of the Legislature has been studying those recommendations with the aim of producing a wide-ranging reform package before the end of the current session, but it did not meet the deadline. Brian Murphy, executive director of the committee, said the panel now hopes to have legislation ready when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
In the absence of such a package, the bill by Hayden and the Campbell-Seymour bill were the two major pieces of legislation that emerged from this session.
A key element of the Hayden bill calls on the Legislature to establish a task force to find a new way to fund the colleges. Community colleges now receive state dollars based on the number of students enrolled, a vestige of the colleges' origins in the public school system. Critics of this method say it has caused too much financial instability, particularly since 1982, when two-year colleges statewide began to experience a severe decline in enrollment.
Los Angeles' nine-campus system, the state's largest, has suffered a 30% drop in students in the past four years. Resulting cuts in state money caused the district's trustees to order substantial reductions in programs and faculty layoffs.
Receive Money by Formula
Hayden, echoing the commission's findings, said the colleges should be financed more like the state universities, which receive money by a formula that takes into consideration the number of hours students spend in class and the fixed costs of programs unrelated to enrollment, such as counseling and other student services.
The bill also instructs the chancellor to form a task force to advise the Legislature on faculty qualifications. The master plan commission recommended abolishing the credential requirement and instituting a system of peer review.
The task force on financing also would study ways to increase the accountability of the colleges by establishing clear-cut goals and tying their success in meeting those objectives to financial incentives. According to Hayden, the "performance indicators" might include factors such as the colleges' job placement rate and ability to help students transfer to four-year institutions.
The Campbell-Seymour bill, in requiring the creation of a statewide system of assessing and placing students according to their needs, addresses a longstanding criticism that the colleges have failed to help the majority of students set and achieve clear educational goals.