By now everyone has probably heard the great news that our two colleges received word last Friday that their accreditation was reaffirmed for another six years. A team of peers visited each college last fall to review the progress made over the last six years and to assure the public that the quality of education at both institutions was being maintained per the accreditation standards. Like a clean financial audit, a reaffirmation decision does not occur by accident. There is an enormous amount of work that occurs during that six-year accreditation cycle and it intensifies even more in the time leading up to the comprehensive visit. Everyone at the colleges, and to a certain extent the district office, contributes to the accreditation effort. Of course, the level of contributions and effort varies greatly, but the point is that accreditation is an enormous undertaking and obligation and it takes a majority pulling in the same direction to get the result that our two colleges achieved.
The reaffirmation decision speaks to the positive culture at our two colleges in regard to serving students. It speaks to our ability to assess and analyze our performance at various levels and to take that information and apply it toward improvement efforts. It speaks to dedicated faculty and staff who are willing to "go that extra mile" for students. It also speaks to capable and involved leadership at our two colleges. Although many individuals made important contributions to the accreditation process, one of the most critical contributions was by our two presidents, Erlinda Martinez and John Weispfenning. They took the time to thoughtfully respond in writing to the draft team reports and pointed out errors, omissions, and shortcomings of those reports. Further, they both committed their time to travel to Sacramento and relay these thoughts in person to the Commission. As a member of the Commission, I had to recuse myself from involvement in the decisions concerning SAC and SCC. However, I received sufficient informal comments from my colleagues on the Commission to know that the comments provided by Erlinda and John made a positive impact on the Commissioners and certainly contributed to the positive result that we all wanted. Congratulations to everyone at SAC and SCC on this wonderful accomplishment!
Applied Baccalaureate Degree
It is common knowledge now that Santa Ana College was selected to be one of the 15 programs in the new Applied Baccalaureate Degree Pilot Program. What is not common knowledge is that there still may be some adjustments made to the 15 that were selected. That is, the Chancellor's Office representatives are going to visit all 15 college sites to verify the information in the applications. Based on that assessment, one or more of the selected colleges could be replaced. The CSU system will also have a chance to weigh in on the 15 finalists and there could be a change based on that review as well. So what this means is that it is not a done deal yet, although I believe our Occupational Studies/ Occupational Therapy Assistant program is strong and will pass whatever level of scrutiny is applied.
Being one of the 15 selected is an honor and an exciting opportunity because of what it will mean to our students and to our community. However, this success would not have been possible without the efforts of a number of individuals. First, I don't believe that we would have mustered the effort to make the December deadline if it had not been for the persistence of our Board of Trustees. In particular, Trustees Hanna and Alvarez pushed hard for BP 4026 Baccalaureate Degree Programs. Although that policy was somewhat controversial, its passage did escalate the dialogue on this issue and, in the end, brought all of the pertinent parties together. Of course, Michelle Parolise, who is the lead instructor in the Occupational Therapy Assistant program, is the person who volunteered her program, made a convincing case for it, and did a tremendous job in compiling all of the necessary information. Michelle was supported in this endeavor by Bonnie Jaros, who did her usual stellar job in assisting in the writing and organization of the proposal. John Zarske, Bart Hoffman and Omar Torres also supported this effort with various and important contributions. All in all it was a team effort and Santa Ana College is making history because of it.
In my last update, I wrote a long lament about our budget. While there is still much to be concerned about, the recent budget news from Sacramento was a welcome positive development. There are still many issues that need to be sorted out and it remains to be seen what changes will occur in the May Revise and then in the final state budget. Nonetheless, the news is good and the Governor's proposal provides some limited hope of relief although it does not affect the basic source of our budget problems, which, simply put, is that we are spending more funds than we are receiving. I am only referring to the general fund and not to the new allocations of categorical funding that have been allocated to our district (i.e., SSSP and Student Equity). While those funds are welcome and a great gift for our students, they are restricted in their use and, at best, can provide only modest assistance with our budget problems.
There are a number of items in the proposed budget that could help us to whittle down our budget deficit if the best case scenario holds. For example, the Governor proposed a modest COLA of 1.58%, which is about $92.4 million for the system and $2.4 million for our district. That funding could be extremely useful to meet our current obligations if we are able to encumber it for those obligations. The Governor's proposed budget contains 2% for funded growth in the amount of $106.9 million. That means we have the opportunity to capture approximately $2.6 million in access/growth dollars if we can generate growth. Unfortunately, given our enrollment numbers so far this year that possibility looks dubious at this point. Then there is a $125 million addition to our system base allocation amount that is slated to assist us in meeting our increased operating expenses. This would provide an additional $2.4 million for our district. That funding will help us if it remains as unrestricted dollars, but several sources are saying that it is unlikely to remain so between now and the May Revise. The Career Development College Preparation (CDCP) rate is being augmented to match the current credit rate. This adjustment to the CDCP rate could mean a potential boost to our budget of $7 to 8 million based on our number of CDCP FTES (we have the largest CDCP program in the state). Once again, the devil is in the details and we don't know at this point what restrictions will be placed on the use of those new funds. It's likely that they will be earmarked for specific expenditures and we will not have much flexibility in how to use them.
In short, the Governor's proposed budget contains a number of potentially helpful elements. On the surface it all sounds good and could provide some measure of relief. At the same time, we can't fall into the trap of thinking that we can relax and that all of our budget woes are solved. Clearly, that is not the case. There is much that can happen between now and the May Revise - in both a positive and a negative direction. The Governor's proposed budget does not alter the fact that we have an ongoing and increasing budget deficit and that we have to reconcile that deficit to balance our budget because our lifeboat, in the form of the Stabilization Fund, will be exhausted by next year if we keep spending at our current pace. In the end, the state can't fix our spending problem for us, it's up to us to do that ourselves.
About two years ago, the purpose of the RSCCD Foundation was changed from the traditional mission of raising funds for student scholarships and other such activities to being a foundation dedicated to economic development projects. As such, the RSCCD Foundation has embarked on several projects in keeping with its mission to promote economic development and to seek activities that would produce revenue for the foundation and the colleges/district.
Toward that end, the Foundation has supported our outreach to expand our international student recruitment efforts. We are now engaging agents in China to recruit students for our two colleges and we are sending district representatives to the major college fairs in China. We will soon be expanding those efforts to other countries with Viet Nam being the next in line.
In a similar fashion, we have also been looking to expand our economic development efforts by seeking opportunities to do educational consulting on an international basis. For that reason, we bid on a project in Saudi Arabia to assist in building the capability of the technical colleges in that country. Saudi Arabia currently has a system of technical/vocational colleges across the country. These colleges are not functioning at a high level and need assistance in many areas. The faculty and administration need better training, students need a better array of instructional and student services, the curriculum needs revision and upgrading, and some of their facilities need to be improved, to name just a few of the improvements that need to be made. We found out recently that we were awarded two colleges and we are in the process of preparing a detailed assessment plan for how we are going to rehabilitate and improve these colleges. This is an exciting new venture that will not take away from any existing district or college resources, but will hopefully provide some great learning experiences for those involved and bring in some much needed revenue for our district.
All the best,