Stricter rules on fee waivers, new registration priorities, and different funding criteria will be coming to community colleges under a new state law.
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Stricter rules on fee waivers, new registration priorities, and different funding criteria will be coming to community colleges under a new state law, officials said.

With the Gov. Jerry Brown signing into law the Student Success Act of 2012 last September, California community colleges will have to make an effort to boost graduation and transfer rates.

In a recent interview, Acting Chancellor of California Community Colleges Erik Skinner and Vice Chancellor for Students Services Linda Michalowski, both members of the task force that wrote the SSA, described some of the changes on the way.

The Student Success Act was drafted in response to a 2010 law, SB 1143, according to Skinner. SB 1143 changed how California community colleges would receive funding, basing it on students completing courses and the colleges’ graduation rates, he said.

“With that bill the Legislature was essentially stepping up and saying that [they] wanted to see us do a better job in helping our students succeed,” said Skinner. “It initiated a conversation between the community college system and the Legislature about this completion agenda and a shared desire to have more of our students complete their educational objectives.”

Eligibility for fee waivers will be one of the major changes. According to the new law, students applying for fee waivers will have to meet minimal education requirements to be established by the community colleges’ Board of Governors.

While the requirements have yet to be finalized, and will not be implemented until fall of 2014, Skinner and Michalowski, provided some of the recommendations that the Student Success Task Force made for the requirements. To get fees waived, students would have to have a 2.0 grade point average, declare a plan towards achieving a degree, certification or transferring to a university, and must have a progress rate of 50 percent of the courses in their educational plan, Skinner said.

Any student on academic probation for two consecutive terms will lose eligibility for a fee waiver.

“The goal of implementing these academic thresholds is not to exclude students from our system or to penalize them,” said Skinner. “The goal is to incentivize students to engage in behaviors that will help them succeed.”

Registration priority will also be changed. Priority will no longer be given to those who have attended a community college the longest.  Those with 100 units completed will now have lower priority.

“We are trying to target are those students who are continuing to take units without a clear path,” said Skinner. “These are students who have been taking up space in classes who at the end of the day are denying access to other students who are trying to take those classes and graduate and move on.”

There will be exceptions to the rule however. Students who have already graduated and are returning to college for job training will be exempt from the registration priority rule.

Colleges will also now have to publish on the web a student success scorecard that reports annual graduation, transfer and certification rates to the public. According to the SSA, extra funding will be allocated to colleges to use toward counseling, advising and other educational planning services, to help colleges boost their performances in these areas.

The task force adopted recommendations in eight different areas that it felt were key to improving success rates in community colleges. The Student Success Act deals with three of those areas, according to Michalowski.

The first is strengthening support for new students to get and stay on track with an educational plan; the second is giving students incentive to do what will help them be successful; and the third is rearranging funding to provide more resources to help students reach their educational goals.

“This is a huge shift for our system,” said Michalowski, “but it will help students to understand that our resources are not unlimited anymore.”







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