Chancellor Oakley discusses issues facing California community colleges

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California Community College Chancellor Eloy Oakley held a teleconference on Sept. 24 with student media and addressed what plans the chancellor’s office has for the next several months concerning a variety of issues for the 116 system colleges across the state.

Oakley highlighted support for college funding, racial issues and the 2020 General Election on Nov. 3 as some of the topics of most concern to the chancellor’s office.

Encouraging Students to Vote

As November approaches, the chancellor’s office is collaborating with the Student Senate of California Community Colleges (SSCCC) to get students registered to vote.

“Most recently there has been a major effort,” said Oakley. “Most of that effort is in partnership with the SSCCC which works with local student body governance to get the word out to students to make sure they have the information on how to make sure they are registered to vote and keep track of their mail-in ballots.”

The chancellor’s office is also in a partnership with the California Secretary of State’s office to add to the effort.

The California Secretary of State is sponsoring the California University and College Ballot Bowl, a competition in which schools register students to vote.

“This was a competition amongst college and university campuses to get out and register as many students as possible, and many of our campuses participated in that,” said Oakley.

The SSCCC and local student government bodies also assist the Secretary of State with outreach to help register students.

“Most of that is done through email outreach, text outreach, things like that to connect students with the Secretary of State’s office. We’ll continue to push that information through the SSCCC as well as through most of the chief Student Services officers at the campuses,” said Oakley.

These efforts come in an attempt to increase voter turnout among young people.

According to the California Secretary of State’s website, people between the ages of 18 and 24 are the lowest represented age group in the state when it comes to voter turnout.

Funding for Colleges and Support for Employees

Community colleges across California are currently feeling the effects of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, and this has caused some colleges to struggle with payroll.

“Every system of higher education has been experiencing challenges, first and foremost with their students and families, and also with their own employees,” said Oakley.

In order to deal with the economic crisis, the chancellor’s office has tried getting in contact with trustees at local districts in charge of employment responsibilities.

“What we’re doing is trying to support local districts and helping them connect to resources to help them get through this economic crisis,” said Oakley.

Oakley is not only limiting his efforts to support California community colleges locally.

The chancellor’s office is hoping for more federal funding for the schools, and continued economic support for students and college employees.

“We have a presence in Washington D.C. and we’re advocating daily for the next federal stimulus to extend unemployment benefits and add more dollars that our students and employees who have lost work hours or their jobs need, as well as support for colleges directly,” said Oakley. “In the last federal stimulus we got some support. Unfortunately, we were short-changed compared to other private universities because we were funded based on full-time enrollment, not headcount. We’ve lobbied hard to make sure that the next federal stimulus provides us funding based on headcount.”

Despite advocating for more support, Oakley isn’t optimistic about a new stimulus bill passing before November.

“This would go a long way for us, but the next federal stimulus still has not been agreed to and it may not get there before the election,” said Oakley.

Even though federal funding may not be on its way soon, the chancellor’s office can still get support on the state level.

Oakley states community colleges can get help through the governor’s budget to maintain economic stability.

“The next thing that we’re doing is that through the governor’s last budget and going forward, we are ensuring that colleges are held harmless for any enrollment declines,” said Oakley. “A college right now will not lose any money if they see a decline in enrollment, and this will hold them harmless for the next couple of years.”

Systemic Racism and Police Academies

Oakley spoke on racial issues during the teleconference.

With protests and unrest unraveling across the United States demanding racial equity, the chancellor’s office finds it necessary to take action on this matter.

“Soon after the horrible death of George Floyd and the series of events taking place throughout the country, we have to take hold of this moment and make sure that we do everything possible to change the direction of systemic racism in our system and our communities,” said Oakley. 

Oakley is encouraging schools to speak out about race and ethnicity, while also on reforming sensitivity training at police academies.

“We have challenged our college leadership, faculty and staff throughout the system to have an honest dialogue and reflection about where we are with race and ethnicity in our classrooms to take stock and audit our classroom culture, to look at our law enforcement training and education programs and to begin to identify areas of the curriculum that we need to reform,” said Oakley. “We have a lot of different programs, from criminal justice programs to police academies, and we have to take responsibility for that education and training. We have asked that every college who provides that kind of instruction to establish a process to look at the training to reform the training to reflect the needs of their community and to ensure that we’re talking about whether it’s sensitivity training, cultural competency whatever that might be.”

The chancellor’s office has expanded its efforts in discussing police reform and is also collaborating with the Commission on Peace Officers and Standards Training (POST).

“We are in constant dialogue with them about how we reform police training in order to deal with the various issues that have come up recently, from the use of force to the way we police in general,” said Oakley. “We expect every college who has a program to be taking an inventory of what’s being done to look at the best practices and to begin the difficult conversations around race and ethnicity as they relate to policing.”