Higher education is at a crossroads | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Higher education is at a crossroads

I have spent the last 10 months talking and listening to the staff and faculty of Lake Tahoe Community College and to the people of South Lake Tahoe. South Lake Tahoe has experienced bad economic times. The community is working to reinvent itself and the college is a key component of that change. At the same time we are reinventing our community, California is creating another challenge for community colleges.

The community college system envisioned in the 1960 Higher Education Master Plan is fading away through changes in funding, access to higher education, and the courses the state is willing to fund. These changes will be particularly difficult for small rural colleges such as LTCC.

The California legislature has sent a clear message: transfer, career and technical education and basic skills are the priority. The California Community Colleges Board of Governors is considering a policy change on course repeatability as a way to manage the system’s increasingly limited resources. These changes will impact LTCC’s funding.

It is important to remember that Proposition 13 moved local control of community college funding to the state. On May 15, the governor released his budget revise. Due to less-than-projected revenues, the state budget gap for 2012-13 has increased from $9.2 billion to nearly $16 billion. For fiscal year 2011-12, community colleges are projected to take a $129 million budget reduction as a one-time cut. Before these cuts, according to the Community College League of California, community colleges had already experienced an $809 million funding reduction since fiscal year 2008-09.

Our college, due to rural college exemption, was spared the 2011-12 workload reduction taken on by the rest of the state. We have been put on notice that the small colleges will not be exempted in 2012-13.

The May revise includes a projected trigger workload reduction of 6.4 percent, which would reduce LTCC’s budget for 2012-13 by $560,481. This will be after a projected $500,000 one-time deficit reduction for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which will wipe out the college’s rainy day fund. Even if the governor’s tax initiative passes in November, this new landscape will challenge how LTCC serves the community. We must evolve to fulfill our mission of student access and success.

As I said earlier, the California Community College Board of Governors is considering two proposals to save dollars. One focuses on the repeatability of “activity” classes and the other deals with giving enrollment priority to students who are seeking degrees, transfer, certificates or career objectives.

The new policy will give priority to returning and first-time students who have taken a diagnostic assessment, participated in orientation and have developed an educational plan. All students will need to identify a program of study within three semesters or lose their priority.

In regard to the proposed changes in course repeatability, LTCC is looking at all courses that students are currently able to repeat and identifying which remain repeatable within the proposed regulation. Of those courses not eligible, the college will identify classes where modifications to their design and content would create additional opportunities for students. Lastly, the college will consider moving certain courses from its “for credit” inventory into its new community education “not for credit” program.

These may include classes in physical education and our visual and performing arts areas.

With all of these forces at work, the leadership at LTCC is responding with careful analysis of the regulatory changes and our budgets and organization. We are trying to gain additional funding and build partnerships. A recent example is the college’s successful application for the “Upward Bound” TRiO grant, the third TRiO grant secured for LTCC. These grants are at work now serving students at South Tahoe Middle School and High School. We are working with Lake Tahoe Unified School District to build partnerships and maximize both districts’ scarce resources. The college is working with the employee-bargaining units to negotiate a fair and reasonable early retirement package that will help us downsize our organization, meet our projected revenues and reorganize to take advantage of efficiencies. 

Last, but not least, we will be creating a task force in the fall of community members, local and college leaders to start working on the vision of facilitating four year higher education opportunities.

We have challenges, and out of those challenges arise opportunities. I believe LTCC can move into a sustainable future and continue to provide access to higher education in South Lake Tahoe. We hope we can count on the support of our community to move our college into the future.

– Dr. Kindred Murillo is the superintendent and president of Lake Tahoe Community College.

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