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Popular College Choice for Black Students Survives Lawmaker’s Shutdown Attempt

Although, Calbright survived this year’s Legislative attempt to close it, those who oppose it have not given up. They emphasize that Calbright leaders must deliver on its mission on the timetable provided in the audit report and meet the milestones the Legislature established when the college was created.

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Stock Photo of Man on Computer; Photo Courtesy of Google

When the California Legislature passed the state’s 2021-2022 budget last month, lawmakers voted to defund Calbright College, the only statewide college that is completely digital.

However, after negotiations with Gov. Gavin Newsom, the college’s funding has been reinstated.

But Senate Bill 129, the budget trailer bill Newsom signed on July 12, contains language saying that any legislation passed that eliminates the college would be binding.

Calbright College is California’s 115th community college and it is currently tuition free.

The idea for a community college offering only online programs statewide was the brainchild of former Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr.

He believed increasing online course availability would make college more accessible and affordable for working adults. He envisioned it as another public option for Californians between ages 25 and 34 that would help them improve their work skills and allow them to earn certifications to move into better-paying jobs not requiring a college degree.

African American students are overrepresented in Calbright’s student body. About 23% of its students are Black. At traditional community colleges in the state, African Americans represent just 5.9% of students.

Black students are also overrepresented in the state’s for-profit institutions, where they are 18% of students. These institutions can cost up to nine times more per unit than a community college. Students incur higher debt and student loan default rates are higher. Course completion rates for students across these institutions are some of the lowest.

When the Legislature passed the California Online Community College Act in 2018, Calbright was given seven years — from July 2018 through June 2025 — to build a portfolio of programs and support infrastructure for adult students seeking to improve their job and financial status.  The Act appropriated $100 million in state funds for startup costs, and initially about $20 million annually was allocated for operating expenses.

Currently, Calbright offers four programs at no cost to California residents – Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Platform Administration (Sales Force Administrator), Information Technology Support (A+)Cyber security (Security+), and Medical Coding for Professional Services. 

These are competency-based education programs that are self-paced and not constrained by academic calendars like traditional community colleges. Upon completion, students can take an industry recognized exam for a Certificate of Competency that would qualify them for jobs in their field of study.

To Calbright’s supporters, including Brown, Newsom, California Community Colleges (CCC) Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley and the California Community Colleges Board of Governors, the college has the potential to become the public solution to costly, predatory for-profit institutions that target adults and low-income workers and saddles them with excessive student loan debt

Since its inception, Calbright has had detracters. Much of its opposition comes from the community college faculty union. Critics, including many Legislators argue that Calbright programs are duplicative of those offered at traditional community colleges and that the millions of dollars allocated to it would be better used by the state’s underfunded community colleges.

Although Calbright began offering programs in October 2019, by February 2020 its critics requested a legislative audit to assess its progress toward creating online programs, enrolling students, building relationships with employers and collaborating with other community colleges.

The results of the audit, which cost the state over $300,000, were published in May 2021. In the letter accompanying the Calbright audit report, California State Auditor Elaine Howle revealed “It is behind in accomplishing key milestones and must act quickly to demonstrate its ability to achieve its mission.”

She explained, “A primary reason why Calbright’s progress is not on track is that its former executive team failed to develop and execute effective strategies for launching the college.”

Howle also said many Calbright executives left during its first year due to leadership failures.

“Calbright has struggled to adequately enroll the students it was intended to serve, took longer than it should have to develop a student support system, and did not adequately partner with employers in the development of its educational programs,” she added.

But, the audit also pointed out that Calbright’s new leadership has initiated actions to address the deficiencies that were uncovered.

Currently, Calbright offers African American students a tuition-free alternative for gaining new job skills certificates. Unlike students taking courses at for-profit colleges, Calbright students who are unsuccessful in gaining sought-after credentials are not severely financially penalized.

Calbright’s critics have pushed back on Howle’s assessment that “Calbright’s potential value to the State is significant.” They also have failed to acknowledge that their most repeated complaint against the college is disputed in the audit’s finding that “Calbright’s pathways are not duplicative when compared to the other programs we reviewed.”

In February 2021, before the legislative audit report was released, Assembly Bill 1432, an act to make Calbright inoperative at the end of the 2022-23 academic year, was introduced by Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) and co-authored by Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside).

On May 6, before the audit report was published, the Assembly passed AB 1432 by unanimous vote (71-0). The bill was sent to the Senate for approval, but the Senate Education Committee decided not to hear it at its July 14 meeting. That killed any chance for the bill to be enacted this year.

No comment was provided by Committee Chair Senator Connie M. Leyva (D – Chino) when California Black Media reached out to find out why the bill was not heard.

According to the budget deal that Newsom accepted, if AB 1432 had been approved by the Senate, Calbright would be closed.

Although, Calbright survived this year’s Legislative attempt to close it, those who oppose it have not given up. They emphasize that Calbright leaders must deliver on its mission on the timetable provided in the audit report and meet the milestones the Legislature established when the college was created.

“We need to see substantial progress for Calbright to earn our trust and show that this has not been a wasteful experiment coming at California taxpayers’ expense,” Low says.

 

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Black History

13-Year-Old Girl Becomes Youngest Person Accepted into Medical School

Thirteen-year-old Alena Analeigh Wicker received an early acceptance to the University of Alabama, Birmingham’s Heersink School of Medicine under its Burroughs Wellcome Scholars Early Assurance Program. The program partners with Black schools in Alabama to offer students early acceptance as they plan to enter medical school.

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Alena Analeigh Wicker. Girls United photo.
Alena Analeigh Wicker. Girls United photo.

From Black Doctor.org

Getting into medical school is no small feat, but imagine doing it at just 13 years old. While most 13-year-olds are heading to high school, Alena Analeigh Wicker has made history by becoming the youngest Black person – and the youngest person ever – to get accepted into medical school.

“Today I’m just grateful. I graduated high school last year at 12 years old and here I am one year later I’ve been accepted into Med School at 13,” Wicker wrote on Instagram last week. “Statistics would have said I never would have made it. A little Black girl adopted from Fontana, California. I’ve worked so hard to reach my goals and live my dreams.”

She received an early acceptance to the University of Alabama, Birmingham’s Heersink School of Medicine under its Burroughs Wellcome Scholars Early Assurance Program. The program partners with Black schools in Alabama to offer students early acceptance as they plan to enter medical school.

Wicker, who is currently a junior at Arizona State, has always been ahead of her time.

After graduating high school, she was able to complete more than half of her undergraduate requirements at Arizona State University (ASU) and Oakwood University in just one year.

Wicker grew up loving to build things and previously had dreams of building robots for NASA. However, after a trip to Jordan with The Brown STEM Girl foundation, she fell in love with biology and realized that wasn’t the route she wanted to go.

“It actually took one class in engineering, for me to say this is kind of not where I wanted to go,” she told 12 News.” I think viral immunology really came from my passion for volunteering and going out there engaging with the world.”

Her goal?

“What I want from healthcare is to really show these underrepresented communities that we can help, that we can find cures for these viruses,” she added.

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Activism

Oakland’s Girls Inc Takes Senior Summer Participants on College Tours

During this year’s Senior Summer, the Girls Inc., at 516 16th St., took their participants on four college tours: On two consecutive Fridays — July 8 and July 15– the girls went to California State University, Sacramento; California State University, Monterey Bay; University of California, Davis; and UC Santa Cruz. The tours were led by two Girls Inc employees, Gabi Reyes-Acosta and Judy Cordova.

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College Access Now (CAN) is among many free programs offered to girls ages 8 to 18. CAN has three parts: CAN Junior, Senior Summer, and CAN Senior. (Pictured: Daisha Williams)
College Access Now (CAN) is among many free programs offered to girls ages 8 to 18. CAN has three parts: CAN Junior, Senior Summer, and CAN Senior. (Pictured: Daisha Williams)

By Daisha Williams

Girls Inc., a national nonprofit with a branch in downtown Oakland, hosted Bay Area girls in a program to help them navigate crucial parts of their lives such as the college admissions process.

College Access Now (CAN) is among many free programs offered to girls ages 8 to 18. CAN has three parts: CAN Junior, Senior Summer, and CAN Senior.

During this year’s Senior Summer, the Girls Inc., at 516 16th St., took their participants on four college tours: On two consecutive Fridays — July 8 and July 15 — the girls went to California State University, Sacramento; California State University, Monterey Bay; University of California, Davis; and UC Santa Cruz. The tours were led by two Girls Inc employees, Gabi Reyes-Acosta and Judy Cordova.

The girls in the program are primarily people of color who come from low-income households.

Program participant Victoria Pascual said that she would not have had access to these tours if Girls Inc. hadn’t provided them. She also said that her family might not have had the money to take her on these tours. “It would’ve been a lot harder to find the time for myself to go to these places… I would’ve been needing to do other things like my internship or taking care of my family.”

Further, the girls can see their future selves in the Girls Inc. employees.

Judy Corvoda, the CAN program leader, revealed a bit about her background, which is similar to the backgrounds of many girls in the program.

“Being a first-generation Latina, eighth-grader, school was definitely not buzzing in my mind yet,” Cordova said. “It was with Head Royce I got the opportunity to go on a field trip where we learned about college as well as met admission employees from universities all over the United States.

“That is where I learned of UC Merced,” which she went on to graduate from. “This was the only way I got college tours when I was young since coming from an immigrant family, it is hard to find resources. That is why I am so thankful for HeadsUp (a Head Royce equivalent program to CAN) to have given me that opportunity and thankful to Girls Inc for letting me shine light on college as well as giving resources to students without limits!”

Next week: What it 3as like on the tours.

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Activism

City Council Calls for Investigation of Merger of Mills College with Northeastern University

Claudia L. Mercado, Mills alumnae and advisor of the Save Mills College Coalition, said, “This historic women’s college and Hispanic-serving Institution was intended to serve women’s education for generations to come, not traded on the open market for pennies. 

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Speaking in front of Oakland City Hall at a press conference to save Mills College on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, were: Claudia Mercado, Mills Alumnae; Council President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao; Brandon Harami, Sheng Thao's council aide; Kieran Turan, vice president of Save Mills Coalition; and Kimberly Jones, Kaplan's chief of staff. Photo by Ken Epstein.
Speaking in front of Oakland City Hall at a press conference to save Mills College on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, were: Claudia Mercado, Mills Alumnae; Council President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao; Brandon Harami, Sheng Thao's council aide; Kieran Turan, vice president of Save Mills Coalition; and Kimberly Jones, Kaplan's chief of staff. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland City Council this week unanimously passed a resolution celebrating Mills College as the oldest women’s undergraduate college in the West and called for an investigation of the decision of Mills’ board and administration to merge the institution with Northeastern University – saying that the merger was “sudden and had very little transparency.”

At a press conference on City Hall steps, hosted by Council President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, Mills’ alums and members of the Save Mills Coalition vowed to continue to continue pushing for an investigation of the deal even though it was finalized on June 30.

Said Kieran Turan, vice president of Save Mills College Coalition, “It’s deeply troubling how little oversight there is in California for non-profit small colleges, even those with the historic importance of Mills. (This council resolution) will help us take this issue up to the state and federal level. Mills College deserves justice. Women’s colleges are particularly at risk.”

Claudia L. Mercado, Mills alumnae and advisor of the Save Mills College Coalition, said, “This historic women’s college and Hispanic-serving Institution was intended to serve women’s education for generations to come, not traded on the open market for pennies.

“We must hold the Mills administration leadership accountable who were responsible for actively undermining a viable California higher-ed ecosystem and safe space for women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students. Bad higher-ed leaders should not be allowed to fail forward and monetize on the hardships of students and community members.”

In her remarks, Thao said, “As a Mills Alum, I was deeply troubled when the university declared it was closing after 170 years of service. With women and the LGBTQ+ community under attack across the country, it is incredibly important that institutions like Mills be preserved.”

“This merger was sudden, confusing, and done with very little transparency,” she continued. “Many faculty members (including tenured faculty) lost their jobs while students from around the world suddenly found out the programs they were in were cut. This process has been incredibly disruptive to the lives of thousands of people.”

In a prepared statement, Kaplan said, “Without warning or attempt to work with the student body, alumni groups or any other stakeholders, in March 2021, the Mills College Board and administration announced that the school was going to close because of financial hardship? All of a sudden? Without warning?”

She pointed out that Mills has “always been on the cutting edge of women’s rights (and) equality,” the first women’s college to offer a computer science major and the first women’s college to openly accept transgender students. Famous alumni include filmmaker Sofia Coppola, the late actress Olivia de Haviland and Oakland’s member of Congress Barbara Lee, she said.

Kaplan called for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education and the California Bureau of Private and Post-Secondary Education.

“From the beginning, students and alumni have asked questions that haven’t been adequately answered. But the process continued, and the merger with Northeastern was proposed. Still, student and alumni questions were not answered.”

“But an independent investigation will bring everything into the light,” Kaplan said.

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Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson
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