Community Colleges and Adult Schools: How They Work and Who Does What, Part 1: The Community Colleges, Credit and Noncredit Programs

The AB86 Regional Consortium planning process has been something of a crash course for adult schools and community colleges alike. The subject matter we have to master is each other, and the final exam will come in the 2015-2016 school year, when the plans will actually begin to be implemented.

The consortium planning process holds great promise for better collaboration between the adult school and community college systems and improved educational opportunities for California’s adults. However, for the process to really work well, K-12 adult schools need their own dedicated funding. The original proposal for the consortia did not include dedicated funding for adult schools; all funds for the consortia were to come through the community colleges. The original funding proposal was meant to simplify the budgets of K-12 schools by eliminating most categorical programs, including adult schools. However, without dedicated funding for adult schools, the state is at risk of losing their considerable strengths, which include accessibility and support for the mission of the K-12 schools. Governor Brown has the opportunity to assure that adult schools continue to provide their crucial services to the state by including dedicated funding for them in his January budget.

The community colleges and adult schools are both very important components of the California’s education system, and both need to be preserved. Community colleges, fortunately, already have dedicated funding. In order to understand why dedicated funding for adult schools is important, it helps to understand how the adult school and community college systems operate, and how they currently divide the work of educating California’s adults.

Adult schools and community colleges are both composed of two types of programs. Community colleges may be composed of both credit and noncredit programs, though not all community colleges have noncredit programs and only a few have extensive noncredit programs. And adult schools may have both mandated and community interest programs. This post will examine the two community college programs.

THE COMMUNITY COLLEGES: CREDIT AND NONCREDIT PROGRAMS

Community College Credit Programs: This Is College! To understand community college credit programs, just think college: a semester or quarter system where students can only start the program at two or three specific times during the year, courses that last a quarter or semester, grades, credits, and a degree at the end. For a community college, the degree is usually a two-year AA degree that will allow the graduate to transfer to a four-year college as a junior to complete the BA degree, though plans are in the works to allow some community colleges to offer four-year degrees on a limited basis. The familiar administrative structure of college is there as well: community colleges have presidents, deans, department chairs, and so on. Community colleges will often have a campus with an administrative building, buildings dedicated to the various departments, a library, bookstore, and sports facilities similar to the campuses of other types of colleges and universities.

Some Differences between Community College Credit Programs and Four Year Institutions

Admissions-Everybody Welcome!: Unlike the UC System and the state universities, community colleges do not have a competitive admissions process. Community colleges are open to all; it is not even necessary to earn a high school diploma in order to attend a community college. It is probably because of this feature of the community colleges, their universal accessibility, that the state considers them “adult education” rather than strictly institutions of higher learning.

Student Fees—Per Credit Charge: Community colleges don’t charge tuition in the manner of universities and four year colleges. Instead, students pay for classes at a certain amount per unit. This means classes can cost different amounts based on how many units the student will earn upon successfully completing the class. Like four year institutions, community colleges charge out-of-state students (defined as students who have lived in California less than one year) more than California residents. In the community colleges, out-of-state students pay more per unit than residents, rather than paying out-of- state tuition. At least some community colleges use legal residency in California as the standard for state residency, which means undocumented immigrants who have lived and paid taxes in California for decades must pay the much higher out-of-state rate, making community college credit classes too expensive for many in this population. Like four-year institutions, community colleges have financial aid, but this may not be available for undocumented students.   Community colleges also have fee waivers for low income students, though, again, these waivers may not be available for undocumented students.

Community College Noncredit – A Different Model:   Community college noncredit and K-12 adult school programs actually share a model that is very different from community college credit programs. The model is very clearly delineated in a presentation entitled “ENDING California’s Public Adult Education Through Policy: Will You Let It Happen?” which was prepared for a California Federation of Teachers Convention Adult Education Workshop in 2012. As the title indicates, the model is at risk in both the K-12 and community college systems. Since the presentation does such a good job of describing the model, I will simply quote it here. The whole presentation can be viewed here: http://toped.svefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/EndingCApublicAdult_EdThruPolicy-no-blank-pages-1.pdf

 Here is the description of the noncredit/adult school model:

  •  Students may begin and end their enrollment at any time.
  • Credit is not awarded and there are no grades.
  • The focus is on learning, not the achievement of credentials.
  • Adults of all ages and abilities are welcome.
  • Primarily low income adults are served in classes near their homes.
  • Many students get to class on foot or by public transportation
  • Instruction incorporates review to support open entry and adult learning styles; expectations of homework are generally limited.
  • Classes are free or students may pay a token fee* or books/materials cost.
  • Classes may be repeated until mastery is achieved. 

*Fees may not be charged in noncredit but are allowed in k12 Adult Ed.

-“ENDING California’s Public Adult Education Through Policy: Will You Let It Happen?” CFT Convention Adult Education Workshop, 4/13/2012, page 2.

In regards to the footnote, it is true that in 2012 K12 adult schools were allowed to charge fees due to the categorical flexibility that so devastated adult schools beginning in 2008. However, before 2008, adult schools were also required to offer certain classes free, including English as a Second Language, High School Diploma, Adult Basic Education and classes for Adults with Disabilities. Even now, some adult schools do not charge a fee for these classes.

The “Ending California’s Public Adult Education…” presentation is well worth reading, as it explains why the noncredit/adult school model is under attack. While the model welcomes all students, it is particularly helpful for adults who are not only busy, but dealing with the stresses of poverty. In this type of class, students who had little formal schooling as children or never did well in the traditional school system find a home and begin to fulfill their potential. But with no grades, no credentials or degrees, no hard beginning and end date, it doesn’t look much like what we typically think of as “school.” It’s that “focus on learning” that throws people. Learning? What about grades and tests?

But anyone who has taught this type of class can tell you it works, and furthermore, there are standardized test results and other data that demonstrate its effectiveness. There is more than one way to educate people, and not everyone benefits from the formal school model.

Noncredit Community College Programs Represent Only 14% of All Adult Education in California

 While the noncredit model has significant strengths, it is not in extensive use in California in the community colleges. A report on the community college and adult school systems by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) found that community college noncredit programs make up just 14% of the adult education provided in California (LAO report, “Restructuring California’s Adult Education System”, issued in December 2012, p.11  http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2012/edu/adult-education/restructuring-adult-education-120412.pdf)

The noncredit model is extensively used in adult schools, however.

Large Noncredit Community College Programs Are Concentrated in a Few Areas; Ten Districts Provide 85% of Noncredit Instruction

As the LAO report explains, most of the noncredit community college instruction in California is provided by a few large programs:

“… only a handful of (community) colleges offer a robust selection of noncredit adult education. The largest CC noncredit providers are the Rancho Santiago (Orange County), San Francisco, San Diego, North Orange, Mount San Antonio (Los Angeles County) and Los Angeles districts. Together, these six districts accounted for two-thirds of noncredit FTE students in 2011-2012, with the top ten largest district providers accounting for about 85 percent of CCC noncredit instruction.” –“ Restructuring California’s Adult Education System”, pages 11-12.

So six community colleges account for all of the large noncredit programs, and most of them are in Southern California.

Because Not All Community Colleges Have Noncredit Programs, There Are Consortia Where No Noncredit Community Colleges Programs Exist 

The San Francisco East Bay, by no means a remote backwater, is an example of an area with very few noncredit programs. Neither the Peralta Colleges in the Oakland/Berkeley area nor the Contra Costa College system have noncredit programs, so the consortium planning for those systems is taking place between adult schools and community college credit programs.

In areas with large noncredit programs, the consortium planning may be taking place mainly between the noncredit program and the adult school, but this is certainly not the case in all areas of the state. 

In Some Areas of the State with Large Noncredit Programs, Community College Noncredit Programs Have Replaced Adult Schools, But this Is Rare 

In a few communities, like San Francisco and San Diego, all adult education is delivered through large community college noncredit programs, and there is no separate adult school.   This model seems to work well in the communities where it has been established, but it is by no means the dominant model in California, as large community college noncredit programs are, in fact, rare. Nor is there any evidence that these programs work better for their students than adult school programs. The LAO report noted, on page 15, that outcomes for adult schools are comparable to those of community college noncredit programs.

Coming soon: Part 2: Adult Schools: Community Interest and Mandated Programs

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3 Responses

  1. Hi all, upon reading this excellent blog post from Kristen, I was thinking about something Dawn Koepke mentioned at the CCAE legislative training earlier this year. Dawn said CCAE was hiring a lobbyist who is good at “getting ink” — i.e. placing articles, especially op-ed pieces, in newspapers. I was thinking that maybe several of us could collaborate on an op-ed piece for the L.A. Times, incorporating some of Kristen’s points along with Cynthia’s “the little engine that could” angle on AE, and some of what I’ve done & learned in L.A. Maybe a title like: “Adult Education in K-12: The little engine that could, and still can.” What do you think?

    • Great idea to provide ink ideas with Kristen’s points. In my opinion, “The Little Engine That Could” is a children’s story, which to me puts Adult Ed in the young children’s school category, which then has adult ed competing with children’s ed, instead of in addition to… And of course, most people will say children’s ed should come first if there’s a choice and funds are limited. I don’t consider Adult Ed a little engine, even one that overcomes. How about “Adult Education Changes Lives,” with some personal stories of lives changed, along with Kristen’s points. Or some other title without reference to children.

  2. I love the idea! cyn  Cynthia Eagleton

    adulteducationmatters.blogspot

    a4cas.org      smace.org

    We remember the circle one person at a time.

    From: “johnmears@aol.com” To: kpursley@pacbell.net; zimzamjamz@yahoo.com; krnarthur@gmail.com; comment+le64xul1i9z_wj90kxfcvj@comment.wordpress.com Sent: Sunday, November 30, 2014 12:41 PM Subject: Re: [New post] Community Colleges and Adult Schools: How They Work and Who Does What, Part 1: The Community Colleges, Credit and Noncredit Programs Hi all, upon reading this excellent blog post from Kristen, I was thinking about something Dawn Koepke mentioned at the CCAE legislative training earlier this year.  Dawn said CCAE was hiring a lobbyist who is good at “getting ink” — i.e. placing articles, especially op-ed pieces, in newspapers.  I was thinking that maybe several of us could collaborate on an op-ed piece for the L.A. Times, incorporating some of Kristen’s points along with Cynthia’s “the little engine that could” angle on AE, and some of what I’ve done & learned in L.A.  Maybe a title like:  “Adult Education in K-12:  The little engine that could, and still can.” What do you think?  

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