With a dizzying 33 candidates, the election of four seats on the seven-member Los Angeles Community College District board has brought into focus the basic needs of some of the poorest college students in California amid the pandemic, as well as issues of declining enrollment, budget oversight and accountability over the chancellor.
Voters within a 900-square-mile area of Los Angeles County, from San Pedro to San Fernando and Malibu to Monterey Park, will choose whether to elect candidates backed by labor, newcomers marshaled by students, trustees who have run before, homeless advocates or others to oversee the nine-college system. Each seat is elected at large and there is no primary, just the general election.
“This is the largest community college district in the country,” said Fernando Guerra, professor of political science and director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. “It is oftentimes a trendsetter. If it takes on issues and is successful — whether it’s online education, whether it’s student housing, whether it’s certain standards — it will reverberate throughout California and the nation.”
These are among the issues the newly elected board will face:
Declining enrollment. Years in the making, the enrollment decline has been exacerbated by COVID-19, as students have struggled to complete classes online and faced economic uncertainties and other stressors at home. Districtwide enrollment this fall is down to 87% of where it was last year. State revenue is based largely on student enrollment.
Poor student outcomes. According to state data, out of roughly 120,000 students who enrolled at an LACCD college in 2017-18 with the goal of earning a two-year and/or four-year degree, about 14% completed 12 or more units in the fall, and only 4% completed transfer-level math and English within their first year — both important predictors of success. Just 8,000 students previously enrolled in a community college successfully transferred into a four-year institution the following year.
Student basic needs crisis. Before the pandemic, an estimated 62% of students in the LACCD were food-insecure and 55% were housing-insecure. COVID-19 has deepened those insecurities, and access to laptops and high-speed internet has also become a basic need, with an enormous digital divide.
Oversight of the chancellor. The election outcome will determine whether the LACCD’s chief administrator, Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez, stays or goes. In December the board voted 5 to 2 to renew his contract for just one year, to 2021. Board member Scott Svonkin, who voted no, said at the time that Rodriguez had done too little to counter the district’s declining enrollment and low graduation and transfer rates, allowed student information to be compromised with a broken IT system and failed to prevent mismanagement of funds.
Oversight of the bond program. Out of the district’s