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Community College's New Course : CAROLYN G. WILLIAMS

March 14, 1993|MARY HELEN BERG | Carolyn G. Williams, 52, became president of Los Angeles Southwest College in August after serving 23 years in the Detroit community college system. When she arrived, Southwest faced a $1.6-million deficit, a 13% decline in student enrollment and the demolition of two campus structures built on an earthquake fault. The campus, at 1600 W. Imperial Highway, is in the heart of a community recovering from last spring's riots. She was interviewed by Mary Helen Berg.

When I began looking for a community college presidency there were certain conditions that I looked for: a diverse population, an urban environment and what I defined as an "urban mission," where there's a need to be responsive to the community and the community's needs. Southwest, needless to say, had all three of the conditions that were important to me.

Coming to Southwest meant taking on a lot, but all of the problems here are solvable, they're doable. With the right ingredients, with the right planning, certainly with time and commitment, they can all be resolved.

All of education in California is depressed as a result of state budget cuts. Here at Southwest there is absolutely no latitude, even in planning. For Southwest it's certainly a situation where we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and in some cases we don't have any boots.

I see the biggest challenge as bringing financial stability to the campus. When I arrived, the college had a $1.6-million deficit. We were able to reduce that to $633,000 and then asked the Los Angeles Community College Board for an augmentation for the remainder of the deficit. That does not get us out of the woods but it gives us an even playing surface as we begin to plan for 1993-94. It will probably take us 2 1/2 to three years to where we can live within our resources.

Part of the financial problem is that funding for education in California is based on a growth mode. Growth means more students but if you have fewer class offerings because of cuts, then you aren't able to provide classes sufficient to meet student demand.

I haven't gotten far enough in my analysis of Southwest to completely understand why there is a decline in enrollment here. The cost of education is certainly a factor that influences enrollment numbers. I think that the unemployment situation is a factor. People are faced with far more stressful problems that interfere with enrolling in school. Crime, or the perception of crime, in the surrounding community also influences enrollment.

Despite this, there are ways to maximize enrollment, like offering courses that are mandatory for students to complete their programs and by reorganizing our scheduling to serve more students. That's going to take some skillful planning, some work with faculty. We have to get out of the mode of rolling over the schedule from semester to semester.

Still, I think if you provide programs and services that meet the needs of the students they will come.

Improving and enhancing the quality of the educational programs here can be achieved with the cooperation of faculty and with the involvement of the college community. We need to look at all that exists and decide that nothing is sacred, and put in place programs and processes that will better serve the student.

Once the process gets momentum, people gravitate toward quality. Initially you have to get people to buy into a vision. People must believe we are showing them the way to a better life. They must see us as a center for the community and believe that we can make a difference in their lives.

Community colleges are teaching institutions. If there's any real strength in what we do, it's in the classroom. Our focus isn't research, our focus isn't necessarily community service. The real strength is in instruction. And I think we do a real good job of it.

I would hope that we would not become replicas of the four-year college. I think our mission is more comprehensive. Our mission is to prepare people for transfer to a university and for the job market.

By doing a better job of assessment, counseling and remediation, we can bring people to the level where they can progress and reach their goals. We are also seeking additional funds and opportunities to expand programs that support students' transition to higher education or the work force. Last fall we were awarded a Workforce L.A. Collaborative grant, funded by the federal Department of Education, that will help provide training, internships and placement for 500 students in the administration of justice, office management, computer-assisted drafting and manufacturing.

I would like us to be the focal point for helping people to enhance the quality of life by providing opportunities through these kinds of training programs and other programs that would give us a higher visibility within the community.

We would like people to use the campus for civic, sports, cultural and day-care activities too. Right now we run a national youth sports program year round and a summer camp for children, our theater is used for community productions, we offer free tax preparation for area residents. These services provide an avenue to the educational arena. If we bring them onto campus through these programs, they may be guided into the classroom of higher education.

We can enhance the individual, and through the individual we enhance the economy. We help people into a position where they are productive citizens. This is an appropriate role for the community college to play.

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