March/April 2017 Advocate: Questioning CCCE


Questioning CCCE, the District’s non-credit entrepreneurial operation
Many faculty concerns being raised about quality of courses and instructors, competing programs, and lack of accountability and faculty oversight

by Paul Rueckhaus, AFT 1493 Skyline Chapter Co-Chair

Continuing, Community and Corporate Education, or CCCE, formerly known simply as “Community Education” is the entrepreneurial arm of the District that runs revenue generating, noncredit, not-for-credit and hybrid (credit/not credit) educational programs. Among their offerings include summer programs for middle and high school-aged youth, corporate or contract education services, an intensive English language proficiency program for international students and a variety of non-credit online and face-to-face courses offered under the rubric of community education. The department is tied to the District’s overall strategic goals insofar as the revenues sustain and leverage existing resources to support student success. Indeed, the spirit of the program, according to the District’s Strategic Goal #4 (to protect community supported status and assure ongoing resources), is to generate resources that  “[can be] invested in innovation, faculty and staff development, and other productive actions that result in higher levels of student success and social justice and equity.”

Community Education programs are not unique to our District. Community college districts all over the state engage in “entrepreneurial” or self-supporting educational programs similar to those by CCCE. For the most part, Community Education has the blessing of both the State Academic Senate and the California Education Code in offering such programs.

The provision of community services courses and programs is an authorized function of the community colleges so long as their provision is compatible with an institution’s ability to meet its obligations in its primary missions.
-California Ed Code Section 6671

Benefits and Controversy

While the idea of corporate or revenue-generating educational programs in a public education system may raise some eyebrows, community and contract education, undoubtedly, can bring many benefits for our students, our District and the communities we serve. For instance, the Silicon Valley Intensive English Program primarily helps F-1 student visa holders attending SMCCD campuses to get up to speed with their English so that they can enter for-credit and transfer-level courses. Other summer programs expose youth to the community college environment and provide engaging educational, career prep and recreational programming between school years.

With this said, community education programs are not without controversy. The debate within the California system goes back at least 25 years—long before the first MOOC ever graced the Internet—when the State Academic Senate published a background paper on this exact issue in 1993. Interestingly, the issues then are not very different from some of the controversies today. The primary concerns have to do with hiring of faculty, quality control of the courses offered, the integrity of the programs and any influence they may exert on the established for-credit programs regularly offered at California community colleges.

Faculty Hiring & Quality Control

Many courses through community education are offered on-line by instructors external to the District. As the SMCCD Board Report from the March 8 board meeting asserts, many of the instructors are nationally recognized experts in their fields and published authors. While this may be true, the hiring of these instructors and the approval of the courses they teach entirely bypasses the faculty-driven processes that our for-credit students benefit from. In some cases, it may not be necessary or reasonable to go through the established processes of faculty hiring and curriculum approval—say, a continuing education course for a professional license or a lifelong learning course that doesn’t need the accreditation to make the offering meaningful. In other cases, the creation and offering of the course may ultimately benefit the mission of the District and student equity either from the revenues raised from the sale of the course that go to support other student-serving activities or from generating an offering valued by the community that would not be appropriate as a for-credit course.
There are, however, courses and whole programs that duplicate or augment offerings in the for-credit side of the house that may raise concerns for faculty teaching in similar disciplines, students taking similar for-credit coursework and, ultimately, employers and community stakeholders who hold certain expectations of the quality of education offered by our three campuses. Many of these courses and packages are online (though some are live) offered through individual instructors or vendors, such as Ed2go, a nationwide provider of massive enrollment online courses and programs. The online course offerings vary greatly from college success skills to paralegal; from math refreshers to graphic design. Many of the a la carte courses are introductions to specific careers or disciplines, require 24 hours over 6 weeks and cost about $100.  In these cases, instructors and their courses appear to be recruited, vetted and hired entirely through the vendor. Ours is not the only community college district in the Bay Area to contract with Ed2go. Both Ohlone and Las Positas (possibly others), partner with the online course offering company to offer a similar variety of courses and packages.

What’s in a credit?

In addition to the a la carte offerings, CCCE also offers complete professional programs such as medical assisting, dental assisting, pharmacy technician among others. Programs such as medical assisting and dental assisting duplicate our existing certificates that are accredited by ACCJC and industry accreditors. While these programs are noncredit and not certificated, they do bear the SMCCD name on the course documents even though they are offered for different time frames at different price structures by faculty contracted through CCCE. As a faculty member, I am wary when I see courses and programs that bear the same name and advertise similar content and career opportunities as those offered in our esteemed for credit programs, yet have not cleared the hurdles of curriculum review, faculty vetting, external accreditation and other traditions and processes that maintain the public’s faith in public education. I question if they live up to their promise. Moreover, I worry that the allure of convenience and expedience in the private, contracted curriculum will encroach on the values and integrity of that of the public.
The difference between our own CTE programs and those offered through CCCE is stark. For example,

  • Instructor to pupil ratios: The entire 6-month, 240-hour dental assisting program offered through Ed2go is duplicated in 2100 colleges nationwide taught by the same singular instructor. Whereas CSM’s Dental Assisting program has 5 faculty members for each cohort of 20-30 students.
  • Pacing and prices: The live clinical medical assisting program through CCCE costs $2599 and lasts 14 weeks compared to 2 full-time semesters at Cañada.
  • Accountability: Finally, our accredited programs are accountable to track and publish outcomes such as pass rates, transfer and job placement. CCCE technical programs advertise that they prepare students for professional exams, but don’t give further data.

What do the noncredit programs do to the integrity of the for-credit programs offered by our faculty? When a certificate of completion from an Ed2go online course bears the SMCCD name, does an employer or student recognize the difference between that and a State-approved certificate? What message does that send to current and future students (and the community at large) about the value of a credential? Or the value of a faculty hiring process? Or the value of a curriculum review process? Again, these questions are not unique to SMCCD as many other public higher education institutions are joining the trend.

Ultimately, the answer to these and any questions regarding for-profit education in the public community college system comes back to mission and goals. To what extent do these program result in higher levels of student success, social justice and equity to which the District’s strategic goal aspires? And, to what extent do they interfere with “the institution’s ability to meet its obligations in its primary mission” as the Ed. Code insists?

Faculty speak out about CCCE at March 8 Board of Trustees session

When the SMCCCD Board of Trustees held a study session on the subject of CCCE on March 8, several faculty members raised concerns. Leigh Anne Shaw, District Academic Senate President, said that faculty are concerned about the reputation of the District and she believes that the Academic Senate should be invited to participate in the conversation about CCCE courses and programs. Doug Hirzel, Cañada College Academic Senate President, said that while any duplication of courses could affect credit programs that might not get adequate enrollments, there was no natural process for how to work out disagreements about potentially competing programs. Danielle Behonick, District-wide Curriculum Committee Chair, said it is not clear how much overlap between programs is acceptable, i.e. at what point is there too much similarity. Diana Bennett, CSM Digital Media Professor, said she believes that the credibility and vetting of faculty who teach CCCE classes is a concern of faculty.