California Community Colleges Get New Chancellor
KQED's CY MUSIKER: California's 112 community colleges have a new chancellor. He's Brice Harris, formerly head of Los Rios, the community college district in and around Sacramento.
Harris has a big job ahead. State funding cuts have produced faculty layoffs and plenty of other cutbacks for the community college system. Most of its 2.4 million students struggle to get the classes they need to graduate or transfer to a state college or university.
So, Chancellor Harris, congratulations. But we here are wondering if you're out of your mind. Your own predecessor Jack Scott says the community college system is at the breaking point. So how do you patch it back up?
BRICE HARRIS: I think the California community college system is certainly struggling to meet the tremendous demands from our students. But, I am very excited about what the board of governors has done in recent months to set the system up to improve the success of our students, even as we struggle financially.
MUSIKER: And how do you fix this central problem that students are having trouble getting into the classes they need?
HARRIS: Well, it's clearly a financial issue for the state, and until the state begins to recover, I think we will struggle to accommodate the students that want into these classes. Not only are there some who can't get classes at all, but many students that are with us that can't get as much of a load as they would like to take that slows down their education and, therefore, their entry into CSU or U.C., and they are also challenged with available space.
MUSIKER: A number of community colleges have parcel taxes on the November ballot, and that's a fairly new thing for the community colleges. It suggests that colleges, that community colleges are having to go to their local communities to raise money, because they're simply starved for cash from the state.
HARRIS: Well, I do believe that we're finding communities that are saying: if we're unable to get the support we need from the state, we're willing to step up and pass taxes to support our local community college system. I think the long-term solution is to return to a level of state investment in higher education that I think all Californians want and expect.
MUSIKER: Your appointment comes as one of you campuses -- City College of San Francisco -- tries to save its accreditation and stave off bankruptcy. But the interim chancellor has a new plan out today. And here are a few highlights: they're going to cut back on enrichment classes, trim the number of administrators and the clerical staff, close and lease out some campus buildings.
What do you make of those efforts?
HARRIS: Well, I think the most important thing is that the interim chancellor and the board of trustees of the college are engaging in dealing with the problem, and I'm frankly optimistic about the board and the leadership's ability to get the place back on an even footing.
MUSIKER: What about more oversight by the chancellor's office -- by your office for individual campuses? What could you do to prevent a repeat of such problems?
HARRIS: Well, the chancellor's office is going to work directly with locally elected trustees, especially when we're called in to support and help in any way we can.
MUSIKER: What do you do if the governor's tax plan -- that's Proposition 30 -- doesn't pass? And without Proposition 30, there would certainly be more cuts to education, including cuts to the community colleges.
HARRIS: Yes. In fact, if Proposition 30 does not pass the system will probably experience another $338 million reduction, and that will have the net effect of probably denying enrollment to more than 100,000 additional students on top of the nearly half million that we've already denied access. It is a serious situation, and we're working hard to try to make certain that the voters of the state understand what happens if the tax passes to community colleges and what will happen if it does not.
MUSIKER: Thanks so much for talking to us.
HARRIS: You're welcome Cy. Thank you for having me on.
MUSIKER: Brice Harris is the newly appointed chancellor of the California community colleges.