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Q & A

CAMPUS & CAREER GUIDE : 'The Wave of the Future Is Going to Be Technology'

February 04, 1996|After eight years leading the California community college system, Chancellor David Mertes will step down June 30. He talked with Times Education Writer Amy Pyle about the state of the system today and where it is headed

Question: How are community colleges different today than when you took the helm eight years ago?

Answer: I think the colleges are far more involved in straight retraining of the work force . . . of people who are employed, underemployed or unemployed.

Q. How far did you get with your push for technology and where do you see that headed?

A. It's moving right along, but it needs to be watched. The technology itself is changing so rapidly, we need to stay on top of what is available. At Golden West College in Orange County, you can go two years and take your third and fourth staying there, but get your B.A. degree through interactive television with Dominguez Hills State University. That's not offered anywhere else yet . . . but I think in the future, we'll see more and more students taking part of their course work at colleges and part of it at home.

Q. The state college system recently backed away from its vow to provide fewer remedial classes. Do you see community colleges playing a growing role in remediation?

A. I would hope that as we move forward in this world, the need for remediation at the college level will decline. My feeling is that the students coming out of high school. . . are as bright and even better prepared than any we have seen in history. There is simply a much more diverse student body. Oftentimes students who are immigrants, who have come into the system later, have very limited educational backgrounds and it's hard to catch up. And, because we have large numbers of adults returning to school, they need refreshers in math, computers, reading and writing.

Q. President Clinton's job training voucher is perceived by some as a potential boon for community colleges. Do you agree?

A. Yes. I think that with a voucher in hand, a person can go to the institution they think can do the most for them. In that free market, community colleges will do exceptionally well.

Q. Has there been a downside to the community colleges' decision to handle overcrowding by giving preference to first-time students over those returning with B.A.'s?

A. The loss is of the richness that comes to the class with a person who's been through the educational system, been in the work world. They make that class much richer with their broader experience.

Q. Some have cited your Commission on Innovation as one of your most significant accomplishments. Which of its recommendations have been implemented and what results do you expect to see in the coming years?

A. A major part of the commission report said that the wave of the future is going to be technology. One of the major effects that will come out of this is that the colleges won't look at themselves as teaching institutions, but instead as learning institutions. The idea of the faculty member standing in front of a class lecturing and students copying down notes, that's going the way of the dinosaur. You can get factual knowledge from a computer. The role of a faculty member is to help you find new ways of learning. I think that's the whole wave of the future.

Q. Are there ways that community colleges can work more closely with businesses to try to respond more quickly to changes in work force needs?

A. Yes, I think that is one of the major trends for community colleges: Finding ways to be more tightly coordinated with the employer so that the employer understands the colleges and the college understands the employers. Community colleges really have to demonstrate that they are using tax dollars well.

Q. How has the political shift and turmoil in Sacramento affected community colleges and where do you see that heading?

A. Since term limits have come in, one of the things we're seeing more than ever before is the legislator that says, "I'm only concerned about my district." They're only going to be in a couple years and they may have a single agenda. The community colleges have got to develop some mechanisms for developing an institutional memory. In-depth discussions of policy issues are not happening and that's what's needed for all of education, for K-12 all the way up.

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