I don’t think “marketing” and “academic senate” are terms that should cohabit in the same sentence; nevertheless, with that delicate little semi-colon of a bundling board, I shall proceed.
Currently, the Academic Senate is preoccupied with setting local goals to align with the goals of the Chancellor’s Office Vision for Success. It’s a new institutional obligation. The CCCCO disseminated its Vision for Success in 2017, and the report was rightly received with a degree of skepticism. This was partly because of its emphasis on the state’s economic needs rather than on students’ goals and ambitions. (However, the truth – and our glory – is that we strive to enhance our students’ financial futures by improving their skills, employability, and desirability in a competitive work world.) And that skepticism was partly because one of the Vision’s idées fixes was rushing students through their community college education in two years.
The Chancellor’s Office aims to support this career towards completion through mechanisms such as the California College Promise with its free tuition – although the fine print reveals a bit of false-advertising: The CA Promise says that your first year (and maybe your second) will be free! …but only if you attend full-time. At GCC, 35.5% of our students are full-time; the other 64.5% attend part-time and cannot partake of Promised relief. Similarly, Guided Pathways, which the Vision singles out as the best laid plan for getting students efficiently to degree or certificate completion, is typically conceived around the schedule of full-time students rather than the schedules of two-thirds of the humans who enroll in our classes. Some moneys from the state depend on our implementing Guided Pathways – so some skepticism of the Vision is warranted.
But a funny thing happened on my way through the footnotes: The Vision cited a 2015-16 study, “What College Costs for Low-Income Californians” published in 2017, in which the real cost of community colleges was compared to the real costs of both CSUs and UCs. According to the Institute for College Access and Success,
“Colleges with low tuition may not have low net prices, and colleges with high tuition may not have high net prices.” In part, this is because of the cost of simply living in California: “The California Student Aid Commission estimates that in 2015-16, students at any college living off campus without parents – the way that most students at all three public segments live – incurred about $18,000 in non-tuition costs.” In other words, no matter how low each unit costs at a CCC, and no matter how many instructors adopt Open Educational Resources for their class, our students still have to come up with the money for housing, food, transportation, and more in one of the costliest states in the Union. (Do please still adopt OERs!)
Suddenly, the Vision’s obsession with swift completion draws far less skepticism than before. Students at community colleges, typically attending part-time, often take several years to degree completion or transfer. Meanwhile, the disparity in the amount of grant aid available to students at CCCs, CSUs, and UCs exacerbates the community college students’ financial burden, while the UC student receives so much grant aid that she is relieved of the pressing need to work while pursuing her education. “The amount of grant aid available to students at each college also influences net prices. Grant aid – money that does not need to be repaid – reduces the amount that students need to pay out of pocket for college, and the amounts of grant aid available at each college type are quite different.” The Institute for College Access and Success study pointed out that UCs cost 59% more than CCCs but, for Pell Grant recipients, the amount of grant aid available to UC students is over 300% greater than the amount of grant aid available to CCC students. (The amount of grant aid for CSU students falls between CCCs and UCs.)
What does this have to do with marketing? The poppies are in bloom so I’m taking the scenic route to my point.
I don’t want to market GCC by being part of the misleading advertising of the California College Promise. I don’t want to design Pathways – guided or otherwise – that can only be followed by full-time students. I do want to heed the information of people like Sara Goldrick-Rab, founder of the Hope Center, the results of whose #RealCollege survey have just been published. (Fifty-seven of our 114 California community colleges participated; 40,000 students responded, revealing shocking data about their increasing housing and food insecurity in 2019.) I do want to support efforts by legislators like Connie Leyva whose Senate Bill 291 seeks to redress the inequities of old financial aid practices, and Assembly member Marc Berman, whose AB 302 proposes allowing housing-insecure and homeless community college students to sleep in their cars in safe parking areas on campuses overnight.
Learning from Goldrick-Rab’s immense study that 19% of CCC students are housing-insecure, that over 50% are food-insecure, that when the figures are disaggregated by region, race, age, and other intersections, Los Angeles’s African American, Latinx, LGBTQ, veterans, parents of young children, students with disabilities, and older students are more likely to be both housing- and food-insecure than other groups, reminds me that every new design we undertake on this campus presents us with an opportunity to create an institution that specifically acknowledges and supports our students.
Goldrick-Rab’s findings also reveal the counterintuitive: Of the 40,000 respondents, employed students are ten percentage points more likely to be housing-insecure than those who are “unemployed but looking for work” (68% to 58%). Not surprisingly, Goldrick-Rab’s report makes explicit the link between nutrition and academic success, “[W]hile most students report receiving A’s and B’s, students who experience food insecurity report grades of C or below at higher rates than students who do not experience food insecurity. Similarly, about one in five students who experience housing insecurity or homelessness earn grades of C or below.”
Last Friday, I went over to LA Valley College to hear Sara Goldrick-Rab present her survey’s findings. While she was speaking, I realized that the fourth pillar of those Pathways, “Ensure Student Learning,” was not just about what happens in the classroom and its assessment. Ensuring learning also means ensuring that our students have the safety, nourishment, financial aid, and wraparound supports from DSPS and other campus resources that enable them to enter the classroom in their best prepared state to learn. We haven’t yet designed our local version of Guided Pathways, but this is an area where our use of GP funding could be used creatively.
After Goldrick-Rab’s sobering talk, I asked the panel (in which our own Andra Hoffman Verstraete participated) whether my obsession with providing free or affordable child care on campus to our students was misplaced. Amber Angel, LAVC Student Parent Alumna said, “One day when I was walking past Valley College, I saw a swing set on the campus. That was when I realized I could attend college even though I had a young daughter.” Recently, Drew Sugars admitted at a Faculty Meeting that before he worked at GCC, he used to drive by the Verdugo facade thinking that it might be a hospital. Imagine if there were a swing set on the front lawn. That’s the kind of marketing I could support, where we’ve asked our students what they need, we’ve institutionalized our answers to their needs, and we wear those answers on our sleeve, our front lawn, our financial aid practices, our scheduling decisions, our design of new instructional initiatives, everywhere that we serve students – everywhere.