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Another Brick Falls from Higher Education Wall

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Greater dynasties, political or otherwise, rarely implode from one major blow.

    Rather they deteriorate over time as they slowly lose energy, focus, commitment and eventually, their place in the sun.

    So it was with California.

    Bit by bit, this state has been decomposing into a societal has-been.

    The latest example is the state's new policy for community college students.

    Last week, the Board of Governors, the state's governing agency for 112 public community colleges, voted to admit only students with clear academic or vocational goals.  In other words: an individual unsure what he or she wants to pursue will be given the lowest priority for admission.

    Given that the state's community colleges have slashed the number of students by 25 percent because of equally slashed budgets, the decision is all but a death knell for the wandering, yet curious student in search of his or her career. It rewards the "go getters" and punishes the unaware.  

    Historically, community colleges have been the lowest rung on the ladder of higher education. They have been available to those who simply graduate high school, and in some cases, those who don't. They are building blocks for those who decide to attend four-year colleges, helping them to prepare in ways they did not while attending high school.

    They are also training centers for those in search of programs that will provide technical skill sets. Tuition has been low enough that anyone who has wanted to attend would attend.

    Dropout rates are high because many students sort themselves when confronted by what it takes to go through a four-year program. But for those who stick it out, community colleges are links to a formal education and upward mobility that they never would have had.

    Most of all, community colleges have served as information centers with college classes for those in search of their career path. A math class here, a psychology class there, perhaps a computer science course along the way -- that menu of academic hors d'oeuvres to whet an academic appetite -- has allowed the undisciplined and as yet unawakened student to find his or passion.

    But a lack of funds fostered by public resistance to new taxes has now squeezed the life out of community college students in search of their futures. Those who come into community colleges with a vision won't miss a beat; those who come in search of vision will now miss the boat, and in all likelihood not even be allowed on the boat.

    The new policy does what so many other policies in California do: it separates the haves from the have-nots, and it's another reason why the state is allowing so much potential to wane. 

    Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst for NBC Bay Area.

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