The Governor’s plan to transform the current community college funding model to a student-centered formula, for the first time in contemporary history of California’s community colleges, recognizes a reality West Hills has endured for nearly 86 years: rural districts serving large populations of disadvantaged students require more resources to help them to the completion finish line. At our rural Central Valley colleges in Coalinga, Lemoore, and Firebaugh, we take 100% of everybody in our 3,500 square mile district, where nearly 80% of our population lives at or below the poverty line, unemployment is high, and skills attainment is low.
A student-centered funding formula is the long overdue solution for rural districts that incur considerably more expenses to assist our most vulnerable students in reaching the finish line. The current funding formula is based largely on the number of full-time equivalent students enrolled – with no explicit fiscal incentives for colleges to support low-income populations and support their success. As an example, the regional Strong Workforce program was designed to do ‘more and better Career and Technical Education (CTE)’. Our share, based on enrollment, was up to five times less than neighboring urban districts. How can I grow CTE programs when I receive one-fifth the allocation provided to large colleges? How am I to respond to identified needs of business and industry with specialized, high-cost workforce training programs, let alone drive regional economies to enhance rural economic development initiatives? Why do we value selectivity over social mobility?
Although our colleges have done admirable work providing broad access, too few students who enter the system ultimately achieve their educational goals. Half of students fail to complete a certificate or degree after six years, with the rates for those historically underrepresented in higher education – especially low-income students and students of color – even more concerning and with gaps across regions of the state. The Central Valley is the epicenter of that conversation, which is very frustrating for our district because we have unwavering confidence that our students can achieve their goals if ample resources and services are in place to ensure that outcome. And, it’s not that our disadvantaged students cannot achieve their educational attainment goal; I know our students can if we recognize to do so requires more resources than realized with current funding models. I have often said the enrollment-based funding formula is why poor communities stay poor.