Santa Barbara City College’s Continuing Education program has long been the crown jewel of adult education programs. Indeed, CE is distinguished by the breadth of courses, talent of its teachers, quality of the learning experience, and absence of fees due to state subsidy. However, for the past few years, the matter of state subsidy of CE has come under scrutiny. To understand why, we need to put the issue into context.
SBCC has a tradition of excellence derived from the value we place upon quality, access, affordability and an expansive mission. The quality of our college rests with the high caliber of our faculty and staff and a campus culture dedicated to promoting the success of each student and embracing innovative methods to do so.
This commitment to quality was recently reaffirmed with the announcement that, for the second year in a row, SBCC has been selected as one of 10 finalists for the prestigious 2013 Aspen Institute Prize for Community College Excellence. Moreover, SBCC is the only one of the 112 community colleges in California selected as a finalist for this award.
Despite this achievement, as a publicly supported college, SBCC has had to confront significant challenges to the hallmarks of access and affordability. Since 2009-10, the Legislature has increased community college enrollment fees by 77 percent. The cost of going to college has become the gatekeeper, directly impacting affordability and access as financial hardship closes the higher education door to far too many students.
In addition, since 2009-10, budget cuts have come in the form of reductions in the number of students we are able to educate. The only way colleges can reduce the number of students we serve is to cut course offerings. This fall, SBCC had to eliminate more than 117 credit classes, and we have closed off access to more than 1,500 students because of these budget cuts.
What’s disheartening is that we are being forced to do this at a time when demand for a college education is at an all-time high. The bottom line is, access is being denied to more and more students. A growing number of SBCC students simply cannot get the science, math, English and general education courses they desperately need for transfer, career preparation, and degree or certificate completion.
Community colleges have long embraced an expansive mission, striving to meet the educational needs of all. However, in this era of fiscal austerity, such a broad mission is no longer a state priority or one that is fiscally sustainable.
The Legislature has made it clear to community colleges — keep budget cuts as far away as possible from the state’s priorities of transfer preparation, career education and basic skills. College and career readiness are the state’s priorities for the non-credit continuing education it pays for; subsidized lifelong learning is not.
So what does this mean to our community’s rich and vibrant adult education program offered through CE? Approximately 10 months ago, the college began working with key internal and community stakeholders to re-envision CE into a program that is sustainable given the state’s priorities. The result of this effort is a set of recommendations that was approved by our Board of Trustees on Sept. 27.
The recommendations can be categorized into two parts. First, the heritage of our adult education program will be carried on through a newly created Center for Lifelong Learning. This center will retain SBCC’s commitment to offering an enriching array of courses aligned with our community’s interests through a self-sustaining, fee-based structure.
Decoupled from the curricular limitations associated with state-funded personal enrichment courses, the center will offer an even broader set of offerings that are responsive to the lifelong learning needs and interests of all segments of the community. This will be achieved by inviting extensive community involvement and engagement in the planning of the center’s course and program offerings. Course fees will be kept as low as possible to ensure affordability and access are retained. The plan is to launch this center in fall 2013.
Secondly, the current CE courses focused on college and career preparation (for example, English as a Second Language, GED, basic skills, adult high school, vocational education) will continue to be state supported, which requires them to be offered free of charge.
These courses will be integrated into the college’s Educational Programs Division, which will enable the institution to better focus its resources on helping noncredit students achieve their objectives in a cost-effective manner. These courses form an important pathway into higher education for the educationally disadvantaged and uphold the tenet that a college degree is within reach of all.
While change is upon us, we wish to assure you that the heritage that defines CE — its strong, multifaceted and dynamic courses — remains intact and will only strengthen with the Center for Lifelong Learning.
— Lori Gaskin is SBCC’s president, and Dr. Jack Friedlander is executive vice president.