Editorial Categorical Programs–Why do we have them? Why do we want them? Why do we need them?

Article By: 

Audrey Yamagata-Noji, Ph.D.

 Audrey is the Vice President, Student Services, at Mt. San Antonio College, in Walnut, California. Serving as the Chief Student Services Officer since 1996, Audrey is principally responsible for all student-related services, activities, policies, and issues. She has held faculty and administrative roles in Counseling, EOPS, and Student Development. Audrey initiated a successful learning communities effort at Mt. San Antonio College that targets entering, at risk freshmen students. She also serves on the CSSO Executive Board.

Audrey received her Ph.D. in Education from Claremont Graduate University and her Master’s degree in Counseling and Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from California State University, Long Beach. She is a licensed marriage, family and child therapist.

Additionally, Audrey is serving as President of the Board of Education for the Santa Ana Unified School District. First elected in 1987, Audrey served for three consecutive terms on the School Board through 2000. In November 2002, Audrey was elected to the School Board for a fourth term. She is a regular contributor to the iJournal and can be reached at Audrey  Yamagata-Noji <ayamagata@mtsac.edu>.


The writer analyzes the impact of deep cuts and modified regulations to categorical programs. The cuts appeared to be targeted against programs that provide a lifeline of support to the neediest students enrolled in California community colleges and ask is this the best way to insure service to the low income and at –risk students who need this help desperately to succeed.


Categorical Programs Faced Deeper Cuts than General Purpose Funds
In order to provide community college districts with greater flexibility to manage budget cuts, state leaders reduced funding for categorical programs much more deeply than general purpose funds.  Overall state funding for categorical programs was reduced by over 40 percent, with cuts to most categorical programs ranging from 38 percent to 52 percent.  In contrast, funding for general apportionment was reduced by 3.39 percent.
Consultation Digest, October 7, 2009, Erik Skinner, Vice Chancellor College Finance and Facilities Planning -- “Proposed Title 5 Regulations for Implementation of the Fifty Percent Law” 

 The intent of the majority of community college categorical programs is to provide additional assistance to colleges in meeting the needs of diverse student populations, most pointedly, low income and disabled students.  The intent is not to provide for stand-alone services that are ancillary to the college’s mission and purpose.  Early categorical programs (DSPS, EOPS, and CARE) were designed to supplement the college’s efforts to sufficiently provide access and equity to specialized student populations.  In other words, efforts such as DSPS, EOPS, CARE and later Matriculation and CalWORKs, were developed to be central to each community college’s mission in meeting students’ educational needs.  Basic Skills funding was initiated in response to the new Associate Degree graduation standards in English and math.
As we all know, the 2008-09 budget process resulted in tremendous, disproportionate cuts to categorical programs.  On the heels of this tremendous blow came pressure to provide relief from the regulations that govern the operation of these categorical programs.  The regulations were put in place to ensure the success of these legislated programs and to ensure that colleges were aware of the legislative directive and intent of these efforts. 
Over time, many individuals and organizations have become disenchanted with some aspects of some of the regulations – especially EOPS regulations.  The EOPS program may be the least understood of the categorical programs.  We know that DSPS serves disabled students, that CalWORKs serves students on public assistance, that matriculation provides systematic services to students from assessment to orientation to counseling, and basic skills funding goes to instruction and student services that address the needs of basic skills students. 
In tight budget times, there is a temptation to want to take categorical funds and categorically-funded staff and faculty, like EOPS, and move them elsewhere to meet other deficits.  To facilitate this, many have argued for relief from Title 5 regulations that govern categorical programs, especially EOPS, in order to provide flexibility with how services are offered and how programs are managed.  This notion of “relief” from mandates becomes very complex.   If we are not fully cognizant of the overall, long term impacts, reducing programs through the relief of mandates could become a capitulation to the cuts that are already being instituted.
Providing relief from mandates can be very confusing to colleges.  These messages may present a false communication that colleges are “free” to diffuse and perhaps dismantle, categorical programs.  There are some mandates for which “relief” would cause disastrous consequences.  For example, relieving some DSPS federal mandates could result in one of two things:  either the general fund covers the services; or the institution takes a legal risk and stops providing certain services.  Considering today’s litigious mindset, the latter is not recommended.  The former merely shifts the fiduciary responsibility from DSPS to the general fund.  Does that spell relief? 
In light of communication from the Chancellor’s Office (October 16, 2009) relative to “Administrative Relief for Student Services Categorical Programs,” and the recent communication (October 26, 2009) “Further Clarification About Matriculation,”
we urge all of our community college colleagues to closely examine the long-term impact of waivers and changes to services for under represented students served through categorical programs.  The long term effect of administrative relief could decimate programs and services in ways that could undermine restoration efforts.
It would be a tragedy to reverse the historical commitment that the community colleges have had in successfully equalizing educational opportunities for low income, disabled, disadvantaged, and basic skills students. 
What will Student Services look like without critical services such as counseling and tutoring for our poorest and most disadvantaged students?  Will these funding losses close the door of opportunity for low income and disabled students?  Categorical funds are critical to enabling these special student populations to receive the support services they need to be successful in college.  In fact, the success of these students is what makes the community college experience unique.  The community colleges in California have long represented “a second chance,” an “extended opportunity,” services that go “above and beyond” to help those most in need.  Will cuts to categorical programs permanently alter the mission of the community colleges?  Not if we make the case for why categorical programs are needed and the good work done by faculty, staff and administrators who lead these efforts.
Many have asked whether these severe cuts signal a lack of support and recognition for Student Services.  The answer is both “yes and no.”  “Yes,” only in the sense that we were seen as an open target – perhaps only because there was a mistaken thought that ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funds could bail us out for the 2009-10 year.  However, in reality, the cuts appeared to be targeted against programs that provide a lifeline of support to the neediest students enrolled in California community colleges.  “No,” on the other hand, in that this signals a critical opportunity to educate our entire campus communities as well as our entire system about the value of our most cherished efforts:  counseling, tutoring, special classes, accommodations, instructional intervention, assessment, and basic skills development. 
Often, Student Services professionals must be the “voice for students” with regard to their educational needs and their support service needs.  This is our call, and this is our commitment.  Now, more than ever, colleges need to hear our clear, articulated voices regarding the needs of low income, disabled, first generation, and basic skills students. 
Student Services professionals should be poised to bring clarity to the discussion and solutions to the table at this most critical juncture.
“I’m in.”  Are you?