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New community college chancellor pledges higher completion rates, shorter grad times

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Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez heads the largest community college district in the nation in Los Angeles, with 9 campuses and more than 100,000 students.
Dorian Merina / KPCC
Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez heads the largest community college district in the nation in Los Angeles, with nine campuses and more than 150,000 students.

The Los Angeles Community College District is the largest in the nation with its fair share of problems, but Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez is optimistic.

The Los Angeles Community College District is the largest in the nation with more than 150,000 students across nine campuses. Many of those students are headed back to class this week to begin the new Fall semester.

It's a sprawling system that has had its share of challenges. Last year, several campuses were hit with sanctions and warnings by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. Earlier this year, a report from the Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonprofit,  found that the median student takes just over four years to earn an associate's degree — more than double the time it has traditionally taken.

But recently, things are looking brighter, says Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez, who began his term this summer. Classes that had been cut in recent years are back on course schedules and critical funding is being restored, the chancellor said.

Take Two's A Martinez recently sat down with Rodriguez to discuss the upcoming school year and his plans for the community college system.

Highlights from the interview:

What are your priorities for the L.A. community college system?

First and foremost, to ensure that the colleges have the necessary resources to function well and to serve the number of students that could benefit from a higher education and a community college education. During the downturn of the last several years, we lost 20,000 full-time equivalent students and cut over 10,000 sections. In other words, there was no course offerings that we could provide because we simply didn’t have the funding. So, we’re now coming out of what had been the state’s disinvestment of higher education.

You come from a smaller district with just three schools. What prepares you to take on the Los Angeles district with its nine campuses?

I’ve gone around and talked to the faculty and the administration, the college presidents, others who are involved in this system. The themes are very consistent with respect to academic quality, the subjects, the things that we’re tackling, the issue of bridging the student success gap that currently exists among our community colleges up and down the state and across the nation, frankly. The themes are consistent. So whether it’s a small college or medium sized, or now the largest, the themes are very, very consistent. I understand that we’re in a microscope here and the state’s looking toward leadership from the urban community college district, and we’re ready to provide that. 

In L.A., you have 150,000 students and they’re all graded on their performance. For you, at the end of one year or two years, can you name one or two benchmarks that you hope will get an A grade?

I would hope we’d get an A grade in our basic skills area, and it’s probably the hardest grade to achieve. I’d like us to have stronger results for the students who come in and who need basic skills in remedial education or developmental education. Why? Because 70 to 80 percent of students up and down the state, including LACCD, who come into our [education] system as new students need remediation. Then on the backend, clearly improving the completion rates [is a benchmark]. We have a number of students who have a bunch of units from different colleges, different places, but there’s no coherent academic pattern of course-taking that they’ve had. And they’ve got maybe 30, 35, maybe 45 units from different places during different eras, and they haven’t put all those together to look at. If you just take one year, even part-time work, you can get your degree.

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