Overview of Fall Issue: Colleges on the Brink

Article By: 

Ed Shenk, Editor

With close to 40 years in educational administration and graduate education, Dr. Ed Shenk has been a highly visible leader within California Student Services for many years. Dr. Shenk joined the faculty of the Shirley M. Hufstedler School of Education for Alliant International University in July, 2005 and began a full time assignment in 2006. Teaching in the Doctoral program for Educational leadership and Management, Dr. Shenk focuses on leadership, finance and student personnel administration. As a program Director for the San Francisco Bay Campus, professionals interested in a doctorate in higher education with a professional practice approach may contact him at eshenk@alliant.edu

While at Napa Valley College, where he served as Vice President of Student Services and retired from after 30 years in 2005, he was on the executive board of CCCCSSAA (California Community College Chief Student Services Administrators Association) for fourteen years and was president of the organization in 1991-92. An active member in NASPA since 1994, he was recognized as the Outstanding Dean in NASPA’s Region 6 in 2002. He was the national chair for the NASPA Knowledge Community, Community & 2 year Colleges (2004-06), and currently, is one of two faculty-in-residences on the CCTY Advisory Committee in NASPA. In 2002, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Napa County Hispanic Network and  was the Network President for 2006-08. Dr. Shenk received a B.A. in History and an M.P.A. in Public Administration from San Diego State University. He earned his Ed.D. in Higher Education from the University of Oregon. His dissertation focused on the Impacts of Proposition 13 on the Missions of the California Community Colleges.

Having a special interest in leadership and professional development, Dr. Shenk was instrumental in initiating the Student Services Training Institute in 1991, in which hundreds of California student services professionals have participated. He is a frequent facilitator, trainer, and speaker at local colleges and for statewide and national organizations. He can be reached at editor@ijournal.us


The Editor provides an overview and comment on the tough economic times that have pushed colleges to the brink. The variety of articles included in this edition are on leadership, a proposal for shared resources between colleges, changing students on probation, data driven research, and a review of a book on the community college transfer process. The issue ends with an editorial on categorical programs. Challenging times demand leaders who can face the challenges and keep hope alive. Enjoy!


The skies are turning gray, the leaves are turning orange and the grapes are harvested in what some are declaring will be a very good year for wine out of the Napa Valley. The grey skies can also be foreboding as the dreary winter months are around the corner and in some parts of the nation have already arrived. In California, the dreary budgets of 2009-10 may get a lot worse as the year progresses since early estimates of state income are falling below expectations. What does this mean for out colleges, here and in the nation, as states cut back on higher educational opportunities by raising fees and causing campuses to be locked out for the late comers or the mid year returning vet.
As colleges continue to struggle in these tough budgetary times with growing enrollments and declining funds, the call went out to writers to comment on how our college’s leaders are addressing these tremendous challenges. You may recall that in the Summer Edition, the focus was on reflections on the changing times and how this economic crisis is resulting in new practices and better ways to communicate on our campuses.
Now, the colleges are on the brink of major structural changes with cuts being made in educational services that exceed in some cases the drastic cuts following the passage of Prop 13 in 1978. The result of that initiative, which still haunts the state, was the transfer of fiscal responsibility from the local community to the state for the education of our citizens through the community college system. This change limited the ability of community college to fund itself through local tax increases and left the colleges totally dependent on the state for fiscal support. With the inability of the legislature to come to reasonable compromise on expenditure cuts and revenue increases, the budge becomes all cuts and increased fee to students, not called a tax increase in their case. This becomes the situation we now face in 2009-10.
In this issue, our writers give us some insight on how colleges are coping with the conflicting challenges of greater student demand and reduced service level. How are the colleges responding? Are there new approaches to maximizing student success?  What will be the long term impacts of these changes to our state and its citizens? What are you doing in the interim to keep the services and the college afloat? What research are we doing to study student attitudes in class?
So in Colleges on the Brink, the issue starts off with a message from the current President of the journal’s parent organization, the 4C2S2A. In her message, A Test of Leadership, Celia Esposito-Noy, outlines the challenges and opportunities for community college leaders in addressing the significant cuts resulting from the state allocation reductions and offers some hope. She also outlines the efforts of the CSSO Association to address these dynamic changes. Duane Lowe,  in Partnerships: An Economic Survival Strategyinquires whether community college districts can share resources as a strategy to survive the upcoming fiscal debacle.  His provocative article discusses this concept with the intention of inspiring the community college faculty-members, administrators, and trustees to consider innovative resource sharing arrangements. 
In these difficult economic times all community college campuses must find creative and cost saving ways to serve their students. Penny Skaff, in An A+ Way to Reach More Troubled Students during these Troubling Economic Times, outlines a unique program at Saddleback College that is aimed at helping students on probation to get back on track by saying, “No to the F!”  One area in which colleges can learn more about the attitudes of their students in the class room is through classroom based research, which might help to identify probation students before they go over the brink. Dr. Joseph Adwere-Boamah illustrates in his article, Latent Class Analysis of Survey Data: Dealing with Student Behaviour toward faculty Classroon Behaviour, how the use of Latent Class Analysis (LCA) survey data can help to identify distinct groups or clusters of students based on their responses to a set of questionnaire items. Using this analysis may help colleges to identify favorable classroom behavior and student feelings towards the class. It may possibly improve retention and persistence.

In this issue’s Book Review, Gabriela Borcoman comments on the Community College Transfer Guide by Don Silver. At a time when transfer oriented students are finding that it is becoming  increasingly difficult to navigate path to transfer to four year colleges and universities, this easy to read and easy to understand “manual” is a must. The importance of planning and counseling is emphasized in every chapter. The author provides worksheets to be used by the students, making it easier to keep on track. This is a book that every student with the intention of transferring should read and college transfer centers should include as one of the tools in assisting students to transfer.
Lastly, the issue ends with an Editorial on Categorical Programs Why do we have them?  Why do we want them?  Why do we need them? The writer, Audrey Yamagata-Noji, analyzes the impact of deep cuts to categorical programs that provide a lifeline of support to the neediest students enrolled in California community colleges. She wonders if this the best way to insure service and foster student success?
The challenges are great and this is just a few of the observations and ideas that are emerging to address this monumental shift occurring in community colleges. Where will it takes us and what transformations will have occurred at these lynch-pin institutions once the crisis subsides in a few years? Once, a noted UC Chancellor declared, after the approval of the original California Master Plan for Higher Education, that the community college would be the ‘cooling out’ institution. He believed that student who wanted to go to college but did not have the skilled would be pushed or failed out of the system, never to return. Now, with the enrollment impacts to the CSU and the UC, it seems more like the ‘holding pen” for the talented, but economically challenged. The at-risk and needy students will not be cooled out, but locked out unless the citizens demand for a return to an egalitarian approach with sufficient funding to allow all who are interested in their future to attend. 

Will the community college still be a place where all Californians will have a chance to obtain a post secondary degree and a viable job in the new knowledge economy? Or, will our colleges be transformed into way stations for the few and bright?
This writer does not think it will come to that, but the effort to stem the tide and hold on to the values and the mission of this great system will be severely tested. Colleges will be on the brink until the citizens and college, state and national leaders collectively within a state and the nation find a way to stabilize our higher educational funding so all can benefit and help grow this nation out of these tough times.
If you want to see what others have written on budget impacts in our past two issues, please go to http://www.ijournal.us  As always, the journal is looking of commentary on the major and minor issues impacting community colleges and invite you to submit an article for our next edition which will be out late March, 2010. The early winter edition deadline will be Feb. 1. Interest can be sent to editor@ijournal.us or eshenk@alliant.edu I look forward to hearing from you.
Let us all pray for peace in the coming year for those in troubled lands. Happy holidays, Ed Shenk, Editor