The state’s push to get students ahead in life will leave many behind. California’s policy makers are discussing laws to streamline public education to save money and graduate more students in a timely manner. One proposal is that community college students be required to declare a major after a certain number of units are completed. According to some a unit is a unit, no matter if the classes are pre-requisites, general ed, electives or transferable classes.
The idea is to find a way to weed out the so-called “professional student” who lingers year after year in community college. The message seems clear: If you want to find yourself, then find a major. However this approach is too simplistic.
This law will signal the end of the community college system as we know it. Gone will be the days when students can take their time to decide what they really want to pursue. In this brave new world, it is get in and get out, and that’s that. Everything is set up to be “efficient” from programs that track what classes you need take, to qualifications you need for certain career paths, to even mandatory counselor meetings.
This sounds good on paper. However first-year students, like myself, are lucky to get one required general ed class, let alone a full load of GE’s or pre-requisites. In order to fill the gap to gain full time status, many freshmen students take electives or non-transferable courses.
And this is where we run into the problem. If students are all competing for transferable units, which are already few and far between, they then supplement their load with electives, which counts against them and the 24-unit deadline. Such a student does not have the luxury of deciding on an area of focus, let alone a major. Students are just trying to get the required general eds. This is worsened by the fact that according to CAFWD.com, 60 percent of community college freshmen have to take remedial classes before moving up to the transferable college credit classes.
Also for consideration, students have to pay extra for classes they don’t need in order to get priority registration next semester. The cost of these elective classes can start adding up. And when fees are at an all time high, more students find themselves at a disadvantage.
Even more discouraging is the new rule’s inflexibility. These rules will not change if you have a baby and/or have to support your family. Chances are that officials will only consider it in terms of black and white.
The state’s way of trying to economize and streamline the process is about to backfire and clog the bureaucratic machine. I highly doubt the so-called professional student is to blame. The problem is the transfer rate and low graduation rate.
We probably all know a person or two who refuse to move on. When you have a large student populace who need certain classes to transfer and a relatively small number of those necessity classes, it is clear that some students won’t get the classes they need.
Students should not be forced into life-changing decisions before they are ready. Community college affords students the opportunity and the place to take some time to plan for the future. It’s important to have an exit strategy from community college, however this only targets a minority and does nothing to help the majority.
What has worked—and, for that matter, will always work—is for community college to offer many required classes in quality programs and options to a student body at large in order for the student to decide what is best for them.