In summary

The search is underway for a new California Community Colleges chancellor. The CalMatters College Journalism Network asked students enrolled in the 1.8 million-student-strong system the qualities they believe are the most important in a chancellor.

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The search is underway for a new California Community Colleges chancellor and the new hire has a tough job ahead. The newly-appointed chancellor will be tasked with solving a lower enrollment rate resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, while working on some of the long-standing problems facing the community college system, such as the closing of student achievement gaps.

It won’t be easy: As CalMatters reported, the 116-college system is not on track to meet goals it set five years ago to narrow by 40% the graduation-rate gap among its Black, Latino and white students and shrink the gaps between different regions of the state. 

Search firm Academic Search, Inc. is leading the hiring process, which Board of Governors President Pamela Haynes estimates will run through early next year. The hiring committee includes members of the Board of Governors, as well as Academic Senate President Virginia “Ginni” May and Clemaus Tervalon, president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges. 

The system needs a new chancellor who “really, truly understands the life and experiences our students have on a daily basis,” said former Chancellor Eloy Oakley, who left in August after nearly six years to become president of the College Futures Foundation, a private foundation working to increase college access for Californians. (The foundation is a financial supporter of CalMatters, but does not influence editorial content.)

Working to ensure faculty diversity reflects the diversity of the student population is also important, he said.

“They are a point of contact for so many people in their communities,” Oakley told the CalMatters College Journalism Network. 

The CalMatters College Journalism Network asked students enrolled in the 1.8 million-student-strong system the qualities they believe are the most important in a chancellor, and what campus issues matter the most. We edited their comments for length and clarity.

Cassandra Shoneru at Diablo Valley College on Oct. 7, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

Cassandra Shoneru, 19

Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, majoring in journalism

“So, I think that we definitely need somebody that has been to a community college because they have firsthand experience of what the students are going through, and also somebody who has a background in this type of administration, that has accomplished things.

The thing that has stood out to me the most and kind of bothered me the most as a student is that there’s not a lot of guidance from the school and from counselors, when you’re taking your classes and when you’re enrolling. So, when I signed up for school, when I had just graduated high school, I picked the wrong classes my first semester, because there was no counselor even available for me to talk to. The school said there would be no counselors available until literally the day that was the deadline to drop or add classes. And that’s something that all of my friends that graduated with me and went to DVC as well, we had a shared experience of that – that we picked the wrong classes and we had no help.

I think also the reason that we have lower enrollment right now is because people are not feeling helped when they’re getting signed up for school. If you don’t feel like you have somebody to answer your questions, or somebody to guide you a little bit, you are not gonna wanna tackle it on your own.”

Sara Marquez, a sophomore at LA Mission College, on campus in Los Angeles on Oct. 14, 2022. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters

Sara Marquez, 19

Los Angeles Mission College, majoring in elementary education

“I feel like it needs to be someone young with innovative ideas. I’m not saying it has to be someone fresh out of college or something, but it needs to be someone who has gone through the system and has understood what it’s like to go to a community (college) and have to transfer. I also feel like they also have to be very good at branding, especially in this age of technology. We need someone who can get us out there and speak to younger generations, rather than older ones or past generations.

I feel like in high school, my counselors really pushed the whole, ‘Go to a UC, go to a CSU,’ kinda not looking at community (college) as your best option. Because in some cases, especially for me, it was the best option and I’m very thankful that I did go to community, because it’s offered me opportunities to explore what I wanna do, rather than just being refined to what I think I wanna do.

It’s a nightmare to get any appointments with any counselors or academic advisors, especially right now, since I’m in the midst of wanting to transfer to a CSU. I work full-time and I go to school full-time, and it’s really hard for me to fit a schedule with a counselor.

I feel like it should be pushed more for (the college) to have more flexible office hours, because I know some of our offices are open from like, 8 a.m. to 3, and those are the times I’m at work. There’s a lot of older people there, and I know a lot of them have kids during the day, they work during the day, that’s why they take those night classes, and it’s hard for them to talk to anyone to guide them, since there’s no late hours for them to get in.

I feel like the chancellor should focus on really getting to things that students need to hear… it’s vital for their careers. Because you can be stuck in community college for an extra two years, three years in some cases, because of misinformation.

Coming from a student that’s of color and is first-generation, I feel like it’s really important that somebody has experienced, or been around enough people with those experiences and those backgrounds, to understand the struggle — especially for first-generation (college students) who genuinely have no idea what they’re doing. They’re looking for someone to guide them.”

Heath Moen at Mendocino College on Oct 6, 2022. Photo by Julie Hotz for CalMatters

Heath Moen, 19

Mendocino College in Ukiah, majoring in history

“Attention to details and effort. What do I mean by this? When they have time away from their busy schedule, it would help for them to bounce around the state, and connect with students with events, conferences and the like. Someone with experience in education would be a good option in my opinion, since they will be able to balance feedback with said experience, and make the most effective decisions.”

The Laney College campus in Oakland on Oct. 3, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

Jennifer Arieta, 38

Laney College in Oakland, majoring in computer programming

“After graduating high school, I went to Chabot (a community college in Hayward) for a while. I never graduated ’cause I could never decide what I wanted to major in. So, something on my bucket list has always been to go back and earn at least an associate’s degree, and then maybe, eventually, move on to earn my bachelor’s. So that’s what inspired me to enroll and take classes. 

A big issue right now seems to be the declining enrollment, especially during the pandemic, and figuring out why and is it just the pandemic, is it other stuff… and then how to go about (fixing) it.

I think an educational background would be good, and somebody with leadership skills, somebody who really cares about the students and stuff, and (a) problem-solver.”

Lorraine Barron is a Journalism major at American River College in Sacramento. Oct. 13, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

Lorraine (Rain) Barron, 51

American River College in Sacramento, majoring in journalism

“I would like to see them take more accountability for what’s happening at the community colleges, that’s one of the major ones for me. What are we doing to improve the community colleges?

I have literally been battling (to see a counselor) so bad. In fact, my paper for American River College, we’re doing an editorial on how bad the counseling office is, and nobody’s accountable for that. I mean, there were so many ways the counselors failed me at ARC, and I’m finding out that they failed a lot of the students.

Right now, the biggest thing I’m having a problem with is the cleanliness of the campus. It is so dirty. Even the bathrooms are disgustingly filthy. And there’s a million and one excuses why everything is so dirty. And they’re talking about dropping the mandate for the COVID vaccine and masks are no longer required, and now we’re gonna be in a dirty campus? I notice it’s not just my school, but it doesn’t seem to be a priority for the community colleges to have a clean campus.

I think for them to truly understand (the situation), especially where the community colleges are affected, they would need to have some kind of background in education, but in public education. I think when they come from a private (education) background, they don’t understand the struggle to make it, and it’s a little bit different…

What accountability is the chancellor taking to, number one, make sure that counseling systems are moving, that their schools are [clean] enough? What is the background of this new chancellor? I mean, I would like to know that, because if they’re coming in… private, highly educated, then how are they gonna have any understanding where the lower-income or middle class come from, relying on community college?”

Madison is a fellow with the CalMatters College Journalism Network, a collaboration between CalMatters and student journalists from across California. This story and other higher education coverage are supported by the College Futures Foundation.

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