By Jamillah Moore
Chancellor, Ventura County Community College District
Sacramento State Alumna
I take to heart the fact that community colleges exist to serve the community. Building and strengthening the neighborhoods surrounding the 112-campus California Community College system is a shared mission, central focus and key identifier. This mission involves extending a welcoming hand to high school students and giving our college students a supportive boost into their next phase of life.
The California Masterplan for Higher Education also envisioned a public system that would allow any student to work their way to the highest levels of education. Open access community colleges play a critical role in that plan. Some high school graduates’ grades or family finances are not ready for the university. For them, the community college system is the transfer pathway to success. The CSU and community colleges have been working especially hard over the last two years to make that process smoother as more and more students embrace the community college route to a four-year degree.
As the youngest of six girls, I can relate to family financial pressure. Still, my mother early on laid out “the choice” for her children. We could get a job and support ourselves or go to college and my parents would provide all the support they could. My mother was never very subtle about the option she preferred. A woman who experienced the segregation of the Deep South, she knew that education was the path to empowerment.
I realized that sense of empowerment at Sacramento State. As the first member of my immediate family to complete a bachelor’s degree, I benefitted from the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), the First Year Experience and Summer Bridge. These introductory experiences opened doors, something that I am happy to share with today’s students. The amazing thing about all these programs is that they still exist despite the financial pressures of the last decade. This is a testament to the support for these educational access programs among educators and policymakers.
My university experience taught me this lesson: every effort made in pursuit of education is multiplied. Students willing to intern and volunteer are often amazed by how much people are willing to teach them. Networking and résumé building are obvious benefits, but perhaps more importantly students learn what they want to do and what they don’t. What an amazing opportunity to get an insider’s insight of a career before locking in on a particular path.
I found my passion for public education policy and access issues while serving as a California State Senate fellow for Senator Teresa Hughes, at the time one of two African Americans in the state senate. Working for that incredible woman, and the staff in her office, opened an entire world to me. I saw the making of policy firsthand, interacted with legendary figures in California politics and built lasting connections. In an economically difficult time, that fellowship bridged my entry into a career and gave me a real world advantage when I applied for my first full-time job.
In many ways, I feel my career since has followed the path of a cool virtuous circle. My parents both attended Los Angeles City College. The first college classroom I entered as a student was at a community college. The first college classroom I taught in was at a community college. Now, I am in a position to effect change at a time when public higher education in California is facing dramatic challenges and desperately needs to explore new ways of providing access to quality educational opportunities.
In an experience many students understand, higher education in our state has spent many years on the edge of a “Top Ramen” budget. Continuing to give our students what they need has required creativity, smarts and hard work. We can’t always rely on state support, and sometimes we need to know how to hustle. In the end though, I believe that the three great systems of public higher education in California rest on a solid foundation and we will prevail for the good of our students and communities.