Santa Rosa Junior College embarks on a new era today with the arrival of Frank Chong, the fifth president in the school's 96-year history.
Chong arrives from Washington where he worked on community college policy as deputy assistant secretary of education. In Santa Rosa, he inherits an institution whose roots in the community run deep, like the roots of the oaks gracing the Mendocino Avenue campus.
That reservoir of trust and goodwill is a valuable asset for the new president, and it's a tribute to Robert Agrella, his predecessor.
Over the past two decades, Agrella ably led the junior college through rising enrollment and a changing economic landscape that produced demands for new degrees and vocational certificates while posing difficult budget challenges.
Agrella's legacy also includes an unprecedented expansion of the school's facilities.
During his tenure, the junior college built its satellite campus in Petaluma and added a modern library, a parking garage and a new student center on the Santa Rosa campus. A culinary arts building now rising across Mendocino Avenue will complete the school's physical transformation.
Chong arrives as state officials are charting a new academic course for California's 112 community colleges and their 2.6 million students.
On Monday, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors recommended far-reaching policy changes intended to prod students to complete their associate's degrees, vocational certificates or transfers to four-year schools in a timely manner.
Right now, just 30 percent of students earn a degree or transfer within six years, according to the Institute of Higher Learning & Policy at California State University, Sacramento.
That wasn't a significant issue when times were flush and community colleges were equipped to serve anyone who enrolled, as envisioned by the state's landmark Master Plan for Higher Education. But this is an era of limits. Budget cuts have taken a $1 billion bite from community colleges in the past three years, even as a growing number of jobs require a college education. To fulfill that demand, colleges and universities must adjust their priorities.
Toward that end, the Board of Governors proposes to give priority to students who enroll full-time, complete college-readiness assessments, develop education plans and stay on track to meet their goals. The board also wants to penalize students who amass 110 units — almost double the 60-unit requirement for an associate's degree — with no sign of completion.
Santa Rosa Junior College already has taken some similar steps to address the growing mismatch between demand and availability of classes. That should help position Chong to fulfill his most imporant task: preparing Sonoma County students for the 21st century economy. We wish him well.