The 50% Law and Its Discontents

Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but students enroll into our colleges to engage in courses, which is why within the California Community Colleges system there is something called the 50% Law. According to the California Community Colleges Chancellor's website, the 50% Law “requires each district to spend at least half of its current expense of education each fiscal year for salaries and benefits of classroom instructors.” The purpose of this law is to maintain small class sizes and curb administrative expansion, yet despite its implementation, recent years have witnessed administrative growth, as evidenced by my analysis of the Chancellor’s Office Staffing Reports.

Table 1: Number of Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) Community College Administrators and Faculty, 2010-2022

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Marching for Higher Education

On March 7, 2024, hundreds of faculty, students, and community members marched through Sacramento to demand a more just and equitable education system in California's Community Colleges.  In preparation for the march, dozens of dedicated employees worked tirelessly to obtain approval and coordinate its organization. I collaborated with AFT 1521 student-interns to speak in several sociology classes to engage students and encourage their participation. For me, this event began in the early hours of the 7th, when I met with over one hundred students and faculty at Burbank Airport before traveling to Sacramento. I was thoroughly impressed by the AFT 1521 student-interns who took charge right away in the morning, handing out boarding passes and shirts to everyone before we went through security.

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AB 705: Leaving Students Behind

If you’re like me and enjoy spending winter break analyzing data from the state Chancellor’s office, then you might be interested in the effects of AB 705 on completion levels in math and English. 

AB 705 was legislation that prohibited, except under very narrow circumstances, colleges from requiring students to enroll in remedial math and English. The logic was that if not enough students were completing transfer-level math and English classes within a one-year timeframe because they were taking remedial classes, then if we eliminate remedial classes they will finish  faster, correct? The main data source is their Management Information Systems Data Mart. I was interested in looking at enrollment trends over the last several years, and, not surprisingly, we see a downward trend in enrollment. Below are the enrollment totals statewide and in General Math (TOP Code 170100) and English (TOP Code 150100)

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The Promise and Perils of Direct Placement Into Transfer-Level Courses

California's AB 1705 (2022) legislation and the corresponding Community College Chancellor’s Office guidance mandated that community colleges directly place students into transfer-level math and English courses rather than requiring stand-alone pre-transfer courses. The goal was to increase the number of students completing transfer-level requirements. A recent FACCC survey seeking qualitative data from students provides insight into how this policy change has impacted students taking math and English courses for the first time in community college.

First, approximately one-third of survey respondents completed their first transfer-level math course with an A, B, or C grade. Over half completed their first English course successfully. Direct placement allowed these students to bypass pre-transfer courses and make progress towards their degree. We celebrate these students and want to build on their successes.

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AI in the Classroom: A Balanced Look at Opportunities and Challenges

ChatGPT launched just over a year ago and the tool quickly entered the already fierce debates about education technology. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is rapidly advancing into education, but faculty often remain unsure about using it in their classrooms. It's understandable to worry what could happen if AI becomes a permanent part of colleges. Will it replace human connections and weaken teacher roles through increased use of automation? Will tenure track educators be replaced all together? How will bias and data issues be handled? And, who will provide quality control when AI provides incorrect information?

These are just a few of the concerns I’ve heard from FACCC members when discussing the role of AI at colleges. I strongly share this perspective and have positioned FACCC to be proactive in the realm of AI policy as it relates to community colleges and promoting the role of faculty. However, I believe thoughtfully implemented AI could complement faculty, not replace them. It could allow more time for mentoring and individualized support of students. The key is approaching AI primarily as a supplemental teaching support tool, which will require policymakers and administrators to reinvest in teaching and learning while resisting the pressure to consider AI as a cost savings tool. If we stay focused on students and educators while understanding AI's shortcomings and risks, we can carefully evaluate when AI may improve learning and when it should be kept away from the learning process.

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How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Using AI

In December 2022, an event occurred that caused a revolution in how we find, interact, and record information- ChatGPT was released. In response to the growing array of newly introduced software, the term "AI" (Artificial Intelligence) became a notable addition to our vocabulary. AI has revolutionized the process of writing both fiction and non-fiction books, creating artwork, and modifying existing films. This is one of the major issues in the SAG-AFTRA strike. Notably, it has been used to de-age actors, as seen in movies like the latest "Indiana Jones" and "The Mandalorian". Technology has enabled the creation of abstract animated images, as shown in the introduction to "Secret Invasion" on Disney+. These advancements in visual effects have opened new possibilities for filmmakers to bring imaginative and visually stunning scenes to the screen. This article will focus on the potential advantages of integrating AI within your roles of higher education, exploring its application in the creation of non-fiction literature, and navigating the collaborative process of working with AI as co-authors and editors.

AI writing tools can be used to generate outlines, create lecture notes, develop assessments, provide feedback on student writing, identify areas for improvement, suggest revisions, and create personalized learning experiences based on individual needs and learning styles. For instance, an English instructor could use an AI writing tool to generate a list of potential essay topics for their students, while a history instructor could use an AI writing tool to create a timeline of events for a particular historical period. Choosing the right AI writing tool is crucial for success. Each tool has its own unique strengths and limitations, so it is important to select the one that aligns with your specific project requirements. AI writing tools can be a valuable resource for community college instructors, helping in developing course materials, providing feedback to students, creating personalized learning experiences, and enhancing their own writing. These tools can help instructors streamline their workflow, improve the quality of their teaching materials, and provide more individualized attention to their students.

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Flexing the Classroom Boundaries

So, you have mastered Zoom teaching, you are an expert at asynchronous classroom design, and you can adeptly handle yourself in a face-to-face classroom. Now, it’s time to flex those teaching muscles yet again, or to be more precise, hyflex them. Hyflex is the latest teaching disruption to come to the community college classroom; with many schools actively using it this fall as part of the normal schedule options for students and faculty. 

First, what is a hyflex classroom?
A hyflex classroom refers to a versatile learning space that combines both face-to-face and remote teaching methods. It allows students to participate in a single-class session through various modes, including physical attendance, virtual participation, or by accessing recorded lectures. By utilizing technology tools like video conferencing and learning management systems, hyflex classrooms enable seamless interaction and engagement among students and instructors, regardless of their location. This approach prioritizes flexibility and accessibility, accommodating different learning preferences and circumstances. The idea behind adopting the hyflex model is that educational institutions can work towards establishing inclusive and flexible learning environments that encourage student engagement and cultivate a sense of community among both in-person and virtual learners.

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Tackling Faculty Burnout

 “It’s week one and I’m already tired.”
“I’m depressed because I can’t retire yet.”
“There’s so much to do that I don’t know where to start.”
“I just don’t know if I care anymore.”
“This job isn’t what I thought it was going to be.”

Sound familiar? The World Health Organization (2019) defines burnout as sustained workplace stress characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and reduce efficacy. More and more faculty members report suffering from burnout, often to the point of at least considering leaving the profession

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Four-Year Universities Offering Associate Degrees

In recent years, there has been much talk about the California community colleges offering baccalaureate degrees. Amidst the buzz, little attention has been brought to the fact that certain private four-year universities are now offering associate degrees. Currently, two such programs are operating in the United States: Arrupe College, associated with Loyola University of Chicago, and Dougherty Family College, associated with University of St. Thomas. Come To Believe Network, an organization based in New York, is driving the development of  these programs in partnership with four-year universities. Their goal is to offer associate degrees at ten more four-year universities within the next five years.  This year, they provided grants to University of San Diego, University of the Pacific, Canisius University, Holy Cross College, University of Portland, and Xavier University to establish affiliated two-year colleges.

With a password-protected Board of Directors webpage and limited information about their origin, not much is clear about Come To Believe Network – other than the fact that they firmly believe that the community colleges are unable to accomplish their mission to serve students who can benefit from associate degrees. Their website is rife with damning statistics about community colleges, spotlighting their low transfer rates in comparison to the outcomes of students who have completed associate degrees at the private colleges they funded. The message is wrapped in a bow of equity, proclaiming that the privatization of associate degrees and community college educations are the key to inclusive, accessible, and successful two-year programs.

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Pivoting in a Storm

It’s the first day of school. Your bag is packed, your syllabi printed, and you are ready to return to campus, perhaps for the first time since COVID-19. But wait, an atmospheric river and climate chaos have hindered your plans to return as they caused some of the worst weather-related damage in state history. You open your email expecting to learn your campus is closed, pivoting from in-person instruction to online for the safety of students, staff, and faculty. Instead, you receive a notification informing you its business as usual and cancelling classes will result in a loss of a sick day.

This was a reality for Foothill and De Anza College faculty heading back to campus for the start of the new quarter. To be candid, Foothill College ended up closing due to power outage, but De Anza College faculty were left wondering whether campuses have learned nothing about pivoting in a crisis. 

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Ketchup, 57 Varieties or AB 1705 - Your Choice or NO Choice

AB 1705 is bad policy and will cause a significant set-back to both equity and education for California’s most-underserved students.

Imagine yourself in a restaurant. You know what you want to eat and you know what condiments you want to add.  But the menu says you can only do that after you’ve consumed ten servings of ketchup.  That was the basic skills scenario ten years ago when students were often required to take a long sequence of remedial courses that resulted in poor success rates and low transition into college transfer courses.

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Equity, by Definition, Is Nuanced

Just a few years ago it was agreeable that equity meant everyone gets what they need as opposed to equality, where everyone gets the exact same thing. Yet today, equity is the buzz word sprinkled in our rhetoric to make anything more palatable, just as we might sprinkle cinnamon in black coffee and then claim it’s been sweetened. The problem is, adding cinnamon to coffee doesn’t actually sweeten it– it’s still bitter. And adding the word equity to something doesn’t make it equitable if it doesn’t actually do the nuanced work of addressing individual need. 

AB 1705 follows a pattern that we’re familiar with in education. Educators, who have never stopped saying we need smaller class sizes in addition to a multitude of requests to better support students, are finally relieved when legislators pay attention. Except they’re only half paying attention and instead of supporting the solutions educators have been requesting for over three decades, they have their own ideas about who’s to blame and what the solution is. This leads to the next phase: Sweeping reform without substance that calls on the buzz words of its era– equality, meritocracy, and promises that no child will be left behind, or every student will succeed. Not only do these not achieve the desired outcomes, they actually cause harm in the long run and educators are left holding the metaphorical bill and are scapegoated for the failure of the reform.

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The California Community Colleges Need Your Support

Have you or your family ever taken a course at your community college? Earned a certificate or degree at a community college? Has a community college faculty member inspired you, supported you, and championed your success? I am a proud community college faculty member teaching at Gavilan College for the past 17 years. As a classroom instructor who has interacted with students daily throughout the pandemic, it is very clear students need and want community college education now more than ever.

According to the California Education Code, the mission of the California Community Colleges is defined in four parts: remedial education, career education (technical skills programs), transfer to four-year colleges or universities, and lifelong learning. 

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Equity, Choice, and the Community College Mission are Worth Our Advocacy

I consider myself a community college success story.  I began my journey at a small, rural, community college as a returning student and 37-year-old mother of two children (not unlike many of the students I have had in my classes).  I had decided to attend college to seek a degree in mathematics after having positive experiences volunteering in my children’s classrooms, where I was usually assigned to the math table.  Seeing the children’s faces light up when they understood a math concept in a new way got me hooked.

I was nervous when I took the first steps to enroll at my local community college.  I signed up for the placement testing and did better than I thought I might after years of primarily using math in a bookkeeping capacity.  I was actually excited that I could take Intermediate algebra, a class I had previously had in high school more than 20 years before.  Because I wanted to teach math, I did not want to miss the opportunity to understand the concepts (not just he algorithms I remembered) and I chose to enroll in Elementary algebra.  From there, I worked my way to transfer level math and, eventually, a degree in mathematics.

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Zoom Dreams

A poem by Amy Leonard, De Anza College

Blackness overtakes your box 
A countdown plays in front 
Heart quickens... your future.. 
Breathe, just breathe and check your background 
You appear 
Smiles exchanged  
Time to take your shot  
Banter ensues  

67 minutes later 
Life stories told 
Laughs, smiles, momentary connections  
End with a wave  

Screen down, background gone 
Just me left to wonder 

FACCC blog posts are written independently by FACCC members and encompass their experiences
and recommendations. FACCC neither condemns nor endorses the recommendations herein.

Promises, Promises…Why Do I Believe?

For the last decade, open education resources (OER), or zero-cost textbooks, have been the solution to bringing down costs for students and creating an equitable education. The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s office asserts, “Open educational resources give students more flexibility in learning, and research shows most students perform as well or better using open educational resource course materials compared with students using traditional textbooks.”

The California Virtual Campus – Online Education Initiative (CVC-OEI) launched the Canvas Commons as an easy way to share OER and Canvas content for faculty across the state. When a pandemic took the entire California Community Colleges system online, advocates saw it as a chance for OER to take flight and bring equity to the student population: “A Majority of faculty now report some awareness of OER” (Seaman & Seaman , 2021)  Yet, that was not the case according to “Awareness of Open Educational Resources Grows, but Adoption Doesn't.”

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City College of San Francisco: The Egalitarian College?

In 1856, San Francisco’s leaders had the foresight to offer trade skills, clerical training, night high school, and teach "English for Immigrants". They brought together a diverse group, formed a community, and gave everyone a chance. 

Over 100 years later, Clark Kerr wrote the Master Plan for Higher Education. He abolished “junior” colleges and created “community colleges.” He recognized the educational needs for adults go way beyond the first two years of a university education.

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What Does DEI Mean for Part-time Faculty?

DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) appears to be trending in professional development agendas these days. In fact, just today I saw an announcement at my college for a DEI item as the flex day professional development theme in January. I should be thrilled with the announcement, but I am not. The intended content of the ‘E’ is ambiguous. I am pretty sure it skirts faculty equity. Same for the ‘I’ in a two-tier faculty structure which several of my part-time colleagues describe as a caste system -- embedded and normalized by administrators and many tenured instructors in our colleges, beginning in the 1980s.

But the way I see it, sociologically speaking, the caste-like two-tier faculty structure was constructed and, in true DEI spirit, should be deconstructed and replaced with an equitable single-tier faculty structure. I am one of many in higher education who see equity and inclusion for faculty as key to the restoration of professionalism, fairness, and integrity in our colleges. The administrative de-professionalizing of faculty into the caste-like two-tier structure has produced the crisis of inequality in faculty that endangers the faculty shared-governance role while enhancing administrative rule and shortchanging our students.

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Masquerade, Part Two of Two

A Blog Addendum to “En Mask” (FACCCTS: Fall 2020)

This blog addendum to “En Mask,” an article that appeared in the fall 2020 edition of FACCCTS, contributes to, and reconfigures, previous studies on the H1N1 influenza crisis in California by focusing on the role that gauze masks played in student print as well as material cultures, campus governance, and educational ideas. This is the second installment in the two-part blog addendum.

            Despite an ebbing of H1N1 influenza in Palo Alto, masks and ailments proliferated at the University of California in fall 1918. On October 24, the Daily Cal editorial staff advertised “GAUZE PROTECTORS ON SALE” for five cents apiece. By the next issue, the public university’s advertised sale of masks had progressed with temporal precision: “soiled masks may be exchanged for sterile ones at California Hall between 8 o’clock and 9:15 in the morning and 4 and 5:15 o’clock in the afternoon.” In female boarding houses, the daily rate of influenza cases purportedly declined by almost half. Reporters and advertisers alike were confident that “this shows that influenza is on the decline, and by wearing masks a further decrease in new cases is expected.” Daily Cal editors adhered to John Dewey’s warnings of, on the one hand, “paternal policy,” and on the other, “unbridled personal liberty.” In a political economy of progressive “liberalism,” editors situated columns on the public University mask exchange side-by-side with advertisements for masks sold by Brasch’s on Shattuck, for ten cents apiece. Masks, as material culture of university governance, facilitated epidemiological “prevention, not punishment.”

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Masquerade, Part One of Two

A Blog Addendum to “En Mask” (FACCCTS: Fall 2020)

            In the fall of 1918, Columbia University Professor John Dewey delivered the Mills Foundation Lectures in Philosophy at the University of California. Dewey had delivered the West Memorial Lectures at the Leland Stanford University prior to traveling to the more tuition-friendly Berkeley campus. Less than a year before both lecture series, the California State Assembly passed the Ballard Junior College Act, which authorized trade studies—but not separate community colleges—at the University of California. Dewey subsequently scheduled dual lectures for new University Extension students in San Francisco and Oakland, as well as a lecture on “Philosophy and Democracy” for the University Philosophical Union. He had recently become entangled in an extramarital relationship with Polish-Jewish novelist Anzia Yezierska, which coincided with his requests for federal intervention in Polish-American politics—all in order to advance the social democratic platform of the Polish Committee of National Defense.

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