November 30, 2009 Leave a comment
Local leaders envision a brighter future for community colleges and their students
By Albert H. Fulcher, Holly Angeles, Hugo Cayaros
Published: Monday, November 30, 2009
These are not the golden years for the Golden State. California has been devastated by an economic meltdown and gaping budget deficits that have forced destructive cuts on our state’s once-stellar education system. Contracting university and community college budgets are forcing hundreds of thousands of California students out of the system or hanging on for dear life as they try to pick up classes.
Southwestern College Sun reporters interviewed State Assemblymember Marty Block, Chula Vista Mayor Dr. Cheryl Cox and SWC Superintendent Dr. Raj K. Chopra.
Following are highlights of these interviews.
SUN: Other than the nice weather, why should a student invest their future in California?
California Assembly Member Marty Block: While the weather is certainly a selling point, the real reason for students to invest in California is because this state has always been a social and economic leader for the country and the world. California has a diverse economy and has long been at the forefront of both technological and artistic development. With the emerging opportunities in the new green technology industries, California students have the chance to be involved in building the economy of the future. It is said that where California goes, the nation follows, and students who invest in California now will be able to shape the direction of our state and our country.
Chula Vista Mayor Dr. Cheryl Cox: California has long been a region of opportunity. It is more than the weather and more than the diversity of its geography. If you like a challenge, seek an educational path that leads to a career in environmental preservation. Californians are sticklers for protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and indigenous wildlife and habitat.
If you have a flair for the dramatic, follow the path that takes you in front of the camera or behind it. The San Diego Film Commission is just one of the entities that values performance. Our museums are plenty, as are art galleries and stages for one person or a full cast.
Interested in science? UCSD has more Nobel Prize winners than you might imagine. How about technology? The Silicon Valley led the nation for years in using and improvising new technologies, including the latest in robotic technology. Or a career in culinary sciences? California chefs prefer garden fresh vegetables. Their culinary art includes fusion cuisine, as you might guess, a blend of the many cultures of California.
Right here in San Diego, we have opportunities ranging from vertical gardening and hydroponics to the farming fields of Carlsbad and the San Joaquin Valley. Maybe education is a career rather than a path. California’s UC and CSU systems are among the top in the nation.
Superintendent Raj K. Chopra: California’s comprehensive system of public higher education provides students with exciting and unlimited opportunities to achieve their educational goals in locations that are close to home or work, at convenient times, and affordable cost. With outstanding faculty and staff, and excellent student support programs, our institution’s central mission is the student. The real challenge is for businesses to provide employment opportunities for growth and prosperity to avoid the lack of an available prepared workforce.
We must remain optimistic and hopeful that the business climate will improve in creating opportunities in new areas where the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation in California will prevail. Students must know that their excellent college preparation and their persistence and perseverance will open many employment possibilities, including many amazing new opportunities. As a leader in public higher education, California is home to 110 community colleges, serving over 2.5 million students, and 10 University of California campuses, serving over 220,000 students. The American dream is within reach of all Californians.
SUN: As a public official, how do you plan on dealing with the rising admissions and cutting of budgets, classes and staff?
California Assembly Member Marty Block: As a retired college professor and former community college trustee, I understand the critical importance of strong community college funding. More students than ever are attending California’s community colleges not only with the goal of transferring to a four-year university, but also for professional and career technical education. Like all state entities, the community colleges have been impacted by California’s financial situation. However, there is good news. Our new 2009-2010 budget takes the admissions for growth of the community colleges into account, and we’re allocating $185.4 million to fund 36,000 new full-time students.
Chula Vista Mayor Dr. Cheryl Cox: Students from the South Bay have few choices for a four-year college or university experience south of Interstate 8. The good news for local students is that land acquisition agreements were signed last spring, putting in place the conditions that begin a two-year timeline for the Otay Land and Otay Ranch Companies to process development entitlements while Chula Vista strengthens its partnerships for higher education, continuing education, and career tech programs that lead to jobs and good careers.
As admission request rise, public policy must provide job training and education. I hope that in the months ahead, the job and education partnerships already in place thrive, multiply, and generate new relationships in education, commerce and research.
Superintendent Raj K. Chopra: As Superintendent/President, I serve on the San Diego and Imperial Counties Community Colleges Association (SDICCCA). The goal of the SDICCA is to bring together the community college leadership to collaborate on public policy initiatives that focus on ensuring our community colleges remain affordable, effective, and efficient as we meet the educational needs of the region. Southwestern College has strategically planned its instructional program to maintain access and maximize efficiency, whereby students can enroll in classes throughout our service area-Chula Vista, Coronado, National City, San Ysidro, and Otay Mesa. The “cutting of budgets” is accomplished utilizing an organized and thoughtful process that involves the input of classified professionals, faculty, staff, students and an administrative team. It is our intent to reduce the impact on staff by carefully analyzing the organizational structure of our institution and realigning for organizational and cost effectiveness.
SUN: Describe how the current state budget crises affect community colleges.
California Assembly Member Marty Block: California’s community colleges have become one of the front lines in addressing our state’s economic crisis. The career technical training community colleges provide lead to high-paying trade jobs, and our academic programs are among the finest in the world. We know that investing in our students is the most effective way to restore California’s economic strength, and so keeping community college accessible and affordable is one of the highlights of our 2009-2010 budget.
Chula Vista Mayor Dr. Cheryl Cox: Mayors are local government official with little influence in the way the state spends taxpayer funds or in which community college programs are cut or at risk of being cut. Budget disruption at the state level creates uncertainty at the local level, leaving us to conclude that we should plan to do what we need to do on our own.
Superintendent Raj K. Chopra: The budget crisis impacts all segments of education. The governor and the legislature have recognized the invaluable role community colleges play in this time of high unemployment and limited financial resources. At Southwestern College, we have taken certain proactive steps in monitoring and curtailing expenditures that have prepared us to address the difficult budget situation. Without such measures, the situation would be significantly worse. It must be noted that this budget challenge will be with us at least through the 2010-11 fiscal year. Therefore, we need to continue to proceed cautiously and conservatively in all our budget decisions.
SUN: How can students best prepare themselves for competing in today’s troubled job market?
California Assembly Member Marty Block: In today’s difficult job market, the two greatest assets a job seeker can have are education and determination. Despite the highly publicized fights over education in our state, California’s colleges and universities are still among the best in the nation. Education prepares students to compete in a job market that requires a skilled labor force to work in a 21st century economy.
But in troubled times, education alone is not enough. Students must demonstrate a willingness to work hard, and not be discouraged if finding a job right away is not easy. While in school, internships provide valuable experience and valuable contacts. There are still jobs out there, but it may take more work to find them. Your school’s career counselors can be an invaluable resource when it comes to fine tuning a resume or preparing for an interview, and these are little things that make a big difference in a difficult economy.
Chula Vista Mayor Dr. Cheryl Cox: Employers want to hire the best candidate for the job. Students who make the connection between their studies and the careers they seek have strong potential for the employer. Develop a habit of showing up on time. Dress for the interview. Know the business for which you’re interviewing. Be candid about your strengths and be ready to recognize your shortcomings-then seek to overcome them!
Superintendent Raj K. Chopra: The students should select academic courses that fit in with their future plans. A strong academic background and positive attitude will propel them towards the accomplishment of their goals. They must remember that when preparation meets persistence and perseverance, connected with their overall purpose, they can overcome.
SUN: What do you feel that students can do to participate in resolving the educational crises in California?
California Assembly Member Marty Block: The best advice to current students is to stick with it. California’s higher education system is going through a difficult period, but it is far from broken. The education received at California’s colleges and universities is still the best public education available anywhere. Becoming educated and finding a good job in California are the best things that students can do to help the state through these troubled times.
Chula Vista Mayor Dr. Cheryl Cox: There is no doubt that education impacts the kind of jobs one can get. A good job pays well. A better job pays well, has benefits such as healthcare, offers upward mobility and job satisfaction. Become a part of the solution. Crises come and go. The key is to keep looking ahead for opportunities. Knock on the door. Don’t wait for it to open on its own.
Superintendent Raj K. Chopra: First and foremost, stay in school. More than ever, students must see clearly the dual objective of education for living and education for making a living. Know that the students sitting in today’s classrooms are the future workers and leaders who will make important decisions. They must understand the issues objectively without being influenced by any interest group. This understanding will guide them towards actions they may take.