Cerro Coso President Jill Board
Forums to help college reinvent itself during state budget crisis
A slogan on the cover of Cerro Coso Community College’s 2011 Annual Report reads, “One college. One mission. Many possibilities.”
In light of looming cuts to the state’s community college funding, CCCC President Jill Board and some of her senior staff held a pair of community forums earlier this week in Mammoth and Bishop to discuss some key possibilities, and solicit public input to help frame the tough decisions they’ll have to make going forward.
Staff on hand in Mammoth Monday evening included Deanna Campbell, Director of Eastern Sierra’s Bishop and Mammoth campuses, VP of Academic Affairs Dr. Corey Marvin, Natalie Dorrell, Director of Development and Public Affairs, and VP of Student Services Heather Ostash.
Board, who joined the Kern Community College District (KCCD) in 1989 as a tenured faculty member in counseling, and from there began counseling students in Mammoth and Bishop, opened the forum by saying,
“I’ve watched, as have many in the communities, the buildings go up, the land swaps and so on, and the budgets were always never what we thought they’d be. But we never dreamed we’d be in this position.”
She added that a recent open letter, sent by Board and KCCD Chancellor Sandra Serrano, was not meant to suggest the college is going away, or otherwise paint a doom and gloom scenario.
“It was really a reality check. I’m not here to talk politics, and say vote for [Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed] tax increase or don’t vote for the tax increase.” Board said the best decisions would come from open dialogue. “We’ll continue to educate students across more than 20,000 square miles. We’re invested, and that’s by design. Rural colleges have a different value system because of the way we view our communities. We want a team that has their heart and soul in the college,” she said, as opposed to more transient professors.
State deficits are projected to deliver hard-hitting budget blows to KCCD. A worst-case scenario reduction of $17.8 million district wide from the roughly $100 million General Fund budget assumes that Gov. Brown’s proposed tax hike package fails in November.
Board said it would be “by far the biggest fiscal hit ever taken by KCCD.”
Board stated unequivocally that, during 2012-2013, “There will be NO employee layoffs; will use reserves to backfill as needed.” Right now, the college is still running $500,000 short for next fiscal year’s budget, which she said would likely be heavily reliant on reserve funds. Reserve spending had been intended only to backfill until state revenues recovered. But, as Board pointed out, the state’s revenues might continue to run shortfalls for the foreseeable future.
One option being considered to make up that shortfall is reducing months of operation. Board pitched the concept of running KCCD’s schools a la K-12 public schools, with salaries and benefits based on a certain amount of days in a school year. Staff has estimated that could save roughly $700,000 if that scenario were adopted.
Other suggestions included raising tuition, which Ostash said is up to the legislature. The Board of Governors has already raised it to $46/unit this past year, a boost of $10, she pointed out.
The college has utilized a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Labor to develop new basic skills classes and increase health programs, but isn’t going grant happy.
“Grants are only worth it if you’re going to do [the class or program] anyway,” Board said. “Chasing money for the sake of chasing money just creates a lot of unnecessary work and headaches.”
Board called the college’s plan Future by Design. “Don’t redesign yourself by looking just at hard numbers … Cerro Coso you cut 17 percent, Bakersfield you cut 64% … that doesn’t work,” she said. “Instead we brought together 45 faculty, management and classified employees, and locked ourselves in a room all afternoon.” The group first screened New York Times columnist and critical thinker Tom Friedman’s address to IBM’s Think Forum, “It Used To Be Us.”
“It hit on the old adage that we’re different today, we have our head in the sand and we’ve got to change,” Board said. Internal audits and annual reviews could well be part of that change. “We own buildings … how can we make them work for us?” Board asked rhetorically, suggesting better aligning classes between Mammoth and Bishop, as an example. “And we should be doing [annual reviews] anyway.”
Basic cost cutting measures, such as shutting down computers and turning off lights, are good things, but not $17.8 million things, Ostash said. “We needed to do more.” That in turn led to surveys that went out to faculty and staff and all the constituent groups on the campuses as a whole. “This was an opportunity to gather free-form input not generated by [the college administration].”
One thing the survey revealed was a lot of misperception about how the college spends its money.
“We found the same types of misperceptions [as other schools] during [Mammoth] meetings about what it cost to the penny about students, demographics, salaries, costs, and so on,” Campbell explained. “We also had a lot of similar ideas, and it became clear there were some very similar themes.”
According to Marvin, a lot rides on what defines a healthy program. “The key thing 15 years ago: get butts in seats,” Marvin said. “What’s taken place politically in the intervening years is that the legislature in Sacramento is more interested in how many students you’re ending with. The legislature says the core mission is get ‘em in and get ‘em out in six semesters. So what is it about now … the completion rate? How many classes you can fill?”
And what about online classes? KCCD covers a lot of geography, and online classes might sound like an ideal solution. Log on, take the class, take the tests and get your grade. Simple, right? Not so much, it turns out.
Should the college run online classes where 97% of the students are outside the service area? “That’s our dilemma,”Marvin acknowledged. “On one hand it allows us to run full classes where in some cases we might not be able to otherwise. Does that, however, mean cutting an on-ground welding class or an art class?”
Funding is based on a certain number of students. Online students have a much lower completion rate, Marvin pointed out, and many take only 3 units, or the equivalent of 1 class. Campbell said the state doesn’t have enough funding beyond capped numerical limits, forcing a choice between filling classes online or cutting a class that only has 50% actual attendance. “It’s a war that’s being fought nationally,” Board said, referring to performance-based funding.
“We need a critical mass of students,” Campbell responded. “Most want a general education track to transfer on to a UC or CSU school.” Since the college has skewed its course offerings toward that goal, the number of graduations has tripled.
However, the UC and CSU schools also want a cut of the tuition and to control the curriculum. Hospitality is considered a career technical industry, and Campbell thinks the hospitality industry has to begin to value an AA degree as somewhat proximate to a BA. Still, Campbell said partnerships at the high school level, in culinary arts for example, are being brainstormed and evaluated with local restaurateurs and business leaders.
One comment from CCCC student Corbyn Carroll cut to the chase when it comes to the local job market. Programs connected to engineering that can be used on the Mountain in designing pipes and rails are fine, he said. “Forget hospitality. Not going to happen. Give us languages, math and science,” he said, calling a proposed Kinesiology class a great idea. The college recently debuted its first Chemistry classes, Campbell noted.
“The reason we’re going to college is we want to make money,” Carroll said.
Part-time CCCC instructor Lori Michelon mentioned a need for retention strategies to help students who start off well, but fade as the semester progresses. The Felici Trio’s Brian Schuldt inquired about a continued focus on “concurrent enrollment,” which allows local high school students to earn both high school and college credit for courses in various career tracks that translate well from community colleges to many four-year institutions.
Mammoth Unified School District Superintendent Rich Boccia cited the Early College High School Initiative, or High School 2.0, as a means of creating pathways. “The Health Science Academy at MHS allows students to get a taste of radiology, critical care, nursing and other disciplines and helps them decide where they want to go,” Boccia said.
Boccia, a big fan of concurrent education, wants to get even more proactive at the high school level. “I’d like to give the Accuplacer College Board Test, which is usually given to 11th graders to kids in 9th grade. We can spot any deficits to work on backfilling a lot earlier.”
Pathways to transferring was a key topic, including how to increase the value of an AA to students, and more technical training in growth industries, a la technology-based career courses that would dovetail with opportunities such as those that might be related to Digital 395.
A final report is due to Chancellor Serrano on April 30. Meetings on future directions and other related decisions are scheduled to begin in May.