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Upwardly Mobile Academic: Rocky Young

May 9, 2005

Darroch Young insists that his nickname -- everyone calls him "Rocky" -- doesn't mean he's a fighter. The name dates to when he was two and couldn't pronounce his real name.

Young, named last week as the next chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District, was a popular pick among professors on the system's nine campuses in large part because of his reputation as an administrator who doesn't fight or boss people around. His emphasis on academic rigor also appeals to faculty members and students.

Where he may have to fight, however, is Sacramento -- Young believes that the system is being held back by inadequate state support and rules that limit enrollment. Leading the L.A. district -- with its 130,000 students and an annual budget of $450 million -- is among the more prominent positions in community college education. In an interview last week, Young discussed his record, his agenda and his approach to community college issues.

In many ways, Young seems fated to hold the positions -- he was born in Los Angeles and has lived in the area his entire life. And his entire career has been in community colleges in Southern California. But he says it was "an accident" that he ended up in education.

Young was an MBA student at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1970 when he was recruited to become a teaching assistant. "I did it strictly for the money, but I loved it and after I got my MBA [in 1971] I thought what the heck, I'll go and teach for a couple of years and get it out of my system." He ended up at Santa Monica College, and said that it made sense for him to work at a two-year institution.  "I wasn't at all interested in research. Teaching was the lure."

He stayed at Santa Monica, moving up the ranks to a vice presidency before he became president, in 1999, of Pierce College, in the Los Angeles district. He was at Pierce until he joined the district administration as senior vice chancellor last year, and his accomplishments at Pierce are cited by his many fans of what he's capable of.

Pierce's enrollment had been declining when he took over. It went up -- from 12,500 to 19,000 -- during his tenure as Young visited high schools and started new campaigns to stress the college's academic quality. He also shortened the semesters from 18 weeks to 15 weeks (adding class sessions so that classroom time was not affected), and added short semesters in January and two in the summer when students could take fewer courses but take them more intensively.

Student surveys indicated that the new schedule was hugely popular because it allowed students to complete programs a half year to a full year sooner if they took advantage of all the semesters.

He also started the Fast Track Honors Program at Pierce. In this program, students with good grades in high school are admitted to take some courses at Pierce while they are finishing their high school degrees. Then with just one additional year at Pierce, they graduate and are admitted though a transfer agreement to UCLA. The program is important, Young said, because it gets top students thinking about community colleges, and that in turn gets other students interested.

"When the very bright students at a high school take courses at Pierce or a community college, that changes everything," he said.

Increasing enrollment for the entire L.A. district is a major goal for Young. The district's students are currently at its state-imposed limit of 100,000 FTE. Young said that he believes that there are at least another 10,000 students who should be enrolled, but who can't because the state limit sets de facto quotas on the number of courses that can be offered and the number of slots in them.

Young sees enrollment issues as key to the district's equity goals. The system is a "majority minority" district, with every one of its colleges having enrollment that is at least one-fourth Latino. Young said that new ethnic groups arrive at the campuses as soon as they move to the polyglot area. Enrollments of students from the Middle East and Eastern Europe are among the increases that have been notable of late.

For all the debate about affirmative action at the University of California, Young says, "We have always been the affirmative action institution, the access point because of our low cost." But he is quick to note that the state provides far less per student to California's community colleges than it does to its university systems.

That of course leads to California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who has angered many educators by insisting that taxes cannot be increased to pay for needed improvements at schools and colleges. Asked about the governor, Young, who is usually quick with his replies, pauses a minute and talks about how wonderful it is that Schwarzenegger has the perspective of having been a student at a community college (Santa Monica), unlike previous governors.

As for the governor's stance on taxes, Young says, "We are not getting our fair share, whatever the size of the pot is. So if he chooses not to solve the problem by increasing the size of the pot, he needs to reallocate."

The Los Angeles district's finances are particularly tight because it is one of the few districts that attempts to abide by state rules stipulating that 75 percent of course offerings be taught by full-time faculty members. "There's obviously a financial burden," Young says, "but the full-time faculty are the ones who make the difference in what takes place outside of the classroom. They are what creates the community."

Not only do such statements keep him in the good graces of the faculty union, they help at home too. His wife, Diane, teaches computer applications and business writing at Glendale Community College (which is not part of the L.A. district).

 

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