Law shaped to improve student success

Sean Tongson

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law on Sept. 27 the Student Success Act of 2012, which will usher in much-needed improvements at California’s community colleges. The recently-signed law will be aimed at assisting more California community college students in achieving their goals of earning a degree, certificate, advancing their careers or aid in the transfering to a four-year institution.

The goal is also to improve the completion rate at community colleges statewide. More than 50 percent of community college students are not graduating or transferring to four-year universities in a six-year period.

Originated from the Student Success Task Force in 2010, the new law was authorized and co-signed by Senators Alan Lowenthal and Carol Liu. Liu introduced the legislation, while the state chancellor’s office agreed to formulate the student success task force to come up with some recommendations on how community colleges can improve student success rates. The bill was widely supported by the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges as well as the Student Senate for California Community Colleges.

“The chancellor’s office came up with these recommendations,” said Tim Leong, director of communications for community college chancellor’s office. “After it was passed, they had the legislative authority to move forward, but full funding remains to be a stumbling block. In the meantime, planning and implementation is currently taking place. We’ll have a better picture of where we’re at in another year.”

Since full funding does not yet exist for this project, services such as support orientation, assessment and education planning services will be expanded as more resources become available, which should take another four years.

“Currently, we are in the middle of system level planning. Implementation will begin at the start of the 2014-2015 academic year,” said Paul Feist, Vice Chancellor of Communications of the Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. According to a press release, students can expect to be informed about the upcoming policy changes as early as spring 2013, so students can either improve their academic standing or plan for their future classes.

Though the Student Success Task Force highlighted multiple improvements, the Student Success Act of 2012 highlighted four fundamental points to help students.

First, improvements will occur with existing student support services, starting with the improvement of delivery of assistance from the start of students’ college education. Secondly, the Student Success Act will also provide a new assessment instrument to be used at all 112 campuses statewide in an effort to improve consistency and efficiency when the resources allow. Third, colleges who receive student support service funds will also be required to post student success scorecards to better communicate student progress. By being transparent in this area, this will improve completion rates and help close the achievement gap amongst all students.

Lastly, students who have their tuition fees waived will be required to meet minimum academic standards. “If they are not meeting academic standards for two consecutive semesters, students will be notified,” added Feist. “If it continues, students will lose their eligibility. And that’s in keeping with other financial aid programs as well.” Leong spoke about the importance of getting first-time college students off to a good start, even in spite of recent cutbacks in education.
“With all the budget cuts that we’ve had over the last four years, some of the cuts have still been used in a way to help students to help students with their pathway so they can walk out with the piece of paper in their hands, or earn admission from a four year reduction,” said Leong. “Students are more successful when they are better prepared through orientation and counseling. Coming from high school to college, it is a dramatic change in scenery. This is not thirteenth grade. Students are no longer kids, they are now adults. Our goal is to assist them and making that transition as smooth as possible.”

With full funding not yet available, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office have already begun work on implementing many of the recommendations of the Student Success Task Force report. The Student Success Task Force, composed of community college students, faculty and representatives from local businesses, recommended 22 policy changes in a 77-page final report, the sole purpose being to improve educational achievement in California.
“Each one of those areas of focus when comprehensively packaged them together will be dramatic to the kinds of changes we will be making to hopefully to improve our completion rates,” added Leong. “Not all were unanimous. But what the report does is focus on new ideas in which we were not focused before. There will be some who feel that they don’t want to change, or feel that it is not the right time to do so. However, most feel that this is the right direction to head in.”

Feist, agreeing with Leong, added, “Obviously, not everybody was going to agree on each and every recommended change. Overall however, the task forth came up with a very good package, and good report for community colleges.”

More information may be found in the Student Success Task Force Report at