Few programs available on campus
It’s no secret to faculty that some of their students are troubled, at-risk or have criminal records. The problem is that they aren’t told who they are.
Surge of at-risk students
“I don’t know how many of my students were in the prison system, but we need to be aware of that so we can know how to work with them,” said Gabriella Jones, a Long Beach City College instructor.
Faculty report that the surge in these students is due in part to faulty and ineffective “Zero Tolerance” policies in the nation’s schools that have resulted in a disproportionate number of students of color moving from the school house to the jailhouse, often for misbehavior or minor offenses. Then too, with California under orders to relieve overcrowded prisons, more and more non-violent offenders may be headed to community college.
With national attention focused on the problem, the hope is that prevention and intervention programs begin to replace unnecessary suspension and expulsions. Nevertheless, that may not stem the tide of at-risk students who are enrolling in community colleges in order to seek a second chance. The problem is further compounded by the fact that there are few programs in place to support these students and that by law, faculty aren’t told who these students are.
Yet, challenges are likely to remain within community colleges, for faculty as well as students. Although there are no official numbers available from the Chancellor’s Office, faculty can assume that there are students entering community college who have been incarcerated and may exhibit less than stellar classroom behavior. Faculty are often not told of their students’ records since the information is not required or may have been expunged.
Currently the number of community college programs focused on formerly incarcerated students is limited and offered primarily through EOPS. City College of San Francisco offers the Second Chance Program which is designed to recruit, enroll and support formerly incarcerated students. Santa Barbara City College also offers some small pilot programs, including a six-week summer bridge program for reentry students.
Leah Halper, past president of the Gavilan College Faculty Association, is hopeful such a program will be developed on her campus within the next year. She noted that one former inmate she had as a student (see story below) was all ready to start a campus internship when a staff member noticed on a form that he had a criminal record and denied his application.
“In some ways, it was the perfect problem to have because it prompted people at the highest level to get involved and to change that policy. We then found a couple of agencies who would work with these students, which is important because we are the place where people can get a second chance,” Halper said.