As chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District, Brian King oversees the second-largest community college district in California; its four colleges have 75,000 students, smaller only than Los Angeles’ district. This is King’s seventh year with Los Rios, which serves the greater Sacramento area. Comstock’s recently spoke with King (who is also a member of our editorial advisory board) about challenges faced by community college students and how Los Rios can help train the workforce of the future.
A lot of community college students juggle work and school. What can be done to expand California’s financial aid system to better meet their needs?
One surprising reality is that the way the financial aid system works, the net cost for a low-income independent student is higher at community colleges than it is at (California State University schools) like Sacramento State or a (University of California school) like UC Davis. Even though our fees are low — and many of our students don’t pay fees — we need to do a better job reducing financial barriers for community college students. One effort is our Los Rios Promise Program, which is raising private dollars to help reduce some of those financial barriers, but we absolutely need to do more at the state level in making Cal Grants and other forms of financial aid more available to our students.
LOS RIOS’ RECENT ANNOUNCEMENT:
Sutter Health, Safe Credit Union, Wells Fargo and VSP Global will contribute a total of $752,500 to the Los Rios Promise Program, resulting in 1,234 scholarships to help cover the costs of textbooks and living expenses for low-income students.
These funds “build on the state’s newly announced two-year California College Promise Program, which guarantees free tuition for all first-time, full-time California community college students,” according to a press release from Los Rios’ Office of Communications.
The Los Rios Promise is an umbrella for our fundraising efforts to … provide scholarships for students so they can pay for living expenses and books. Community college students have relatively low access to Cal Grant, so we are advocating to expand Cal Grant. We’re hoping to find a solution at the state level in the budget but recognize that is a challenge, so we’re really excited about the support we have from local businesses. Wells Fargo, Safe Credit Union (Sutter Health and VSP Global) have already made a commitment.
Community colleges can be expensive because many students are slow to complete their units for their associate degree or to transfer to a four-year college. What can be done to ensure students achieve these goals in a more timely manner?
The major emphasis for us is improving pathways for students — what are known as guided pathways — at our four colleges, and working very closely with our K-12 partners so it creates a seamless transition from high school to college, and making it easier for students to identify the courses they need to get a certificate or degree. Every semester they spend has a significant opportunity cost. Particularly younger students want a way to get their information online … and some students need and benefit from a high-touch approach, so guided pathways is directing students to the services that make sense for them, whether it’s meeting with a counselor or having a clear pathway online that they can navigate. The role of academic advising and counseling is very important, but with more than 75,000 students each semester, the reality is we have to have a variety of ways for students to get the information they need.
How do your enrollment numbers compare to a decade ago?
When the recession hit in 2008, community college enrollment exploded; students come to us during tough economic times for skill training. … In a good economy like right now, our enrollment has been stable but not growing. … We know when the (next) recession comes, the demand for enrollment goes up and the resources from the state go down, so it is not an easy dynamic to manage. But in developing guided pathways, when there’s greater clarity about what courses are needed, there are opportunities for us to plan for the economic downturn to make the best use of whatever resources we have.
(We have also) developed what are known as associate degrees for transfer, in collaboration with the California State University system. A student who completes an ADT can transfer directly to Sacramento State or another CSU with junior status in their program. The completion rate for transfer students with an ADT has been very encouraging. Sacramento State wants all the associate degree for transfer (students) we can send them because (they) finish in less time. About 75 percent of ADT students complete their B.A. within two years of transfer, an increase of almost 20 percent from the traditional degrees, which is an astounding success. And more of our students are earning ADTs. … The number of total Los Rios students who received an associate degree for transfer has increased by 265 percent, from 501 students in 2013-14 to 1,828 students receiving an ADT in 2017-18. The five top ADT majors in terms of 2017-18 awards were in business administration, psychology, administration of justice, communication studies and sociology, which aligns with enrollment trends in these majors.
How have community college student demographics changed in recent years?
The demographics have changed in reflection of our community and our state. Our students are very diverse in terms of race and ethnicity. Two of our four colleges are now Hispanic-Serving Institutions — Cosumnes River College and Sacramento City College — and American River College is very close to Hispanic-Serving status (defined in federal law as colleges where Hispanic students constitute at least 25 percent of total enrollment). The Latinx (the gender-neutral term for Latino) population is the most rapidly growing part of our student population. We also have a large number of first-generation college students — that continues to grow. We’re really the gateway for immigrant students from all over the world; we have a significant immigrant population at our colleges. … If you walk on our campuses, the faces of our students are the faces of modern California.
More than 15 percent of Los Rios students are taking only online classes. How has the growth of online education positively affected your students, and what more needs to be done to ensure online education meets their academic needs?
The demand for online courses continues to grow, and we are engaged in thoughtful planning for what our online future for students should be. … One area of emphasis in the coming months will be to identify degrees that students can earn online. There are tremendous opportunities with online for students whose lives make it difficult for them to attend a class on the ground, so we’re excited about the opportunity to provide more online courses and fully online degrees. Our goal is to announce in early 2020 a specific online degree, which we anticipate will be the first of many. It’s a great opportunity to utilize the inventory of classes at all four colleges.
How is Los Rios working to develop the workforce of the future?
One of the most important things our community colleges do is partner with business to make sure we do have the training and workforce that is needed. Our career technical education programs have advisory committees with business participation, so we’re regularly having that conversation about what are the needs and how can we meet them. Health care is another example. We meet regularly with all the major health-care systems to discuss what their needs are. The world of work is changing so dramatically that some of the jobs that will need to be filled are in areas that we don’t even have a name for today, so being very nimble in identifying what the workforce needs are and responding to them has never been more important.
We are having discussions about the California Mobility Center, with a focus on advanced manufacturing, so that’s a great example of how SMUD, Sacramento State, UC Davis and we are having conversations about what will those jobs of the future look like. The California Mobility Center will focus on things like autonomous vehicles and electric forms of transportation … so there will be new manufacturing processes and a great role for Los Rios colleges to be involved in advanced manufacturing training.
I see the construction work going on at Sacramento City College. Are there any other big construction projects or facility upgrades planned at any of the campuses?
We had wonderful news from (Gov. Gavin Newsom’s) budget that state bond funding will be released — almost $100 million for our four colleges. In the coming months, that will help us start construction on other major projects that have been in development. That’s a good day when you hear $100 million of needed capital funds are coming our way. (The funds are for) a new science building at Folsom Lake College, an expansion of American River College’s Natomas Center, and an expansion of Cosumnes River College’s Elk Grove Center. In addition, the funds will support a new career technical education building at American River College. (These are) wonderful projects for our students and the Capital Region.
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