By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer
January 31, 2012 - Eloy Ortiz Oakley has served as superintendent-president of the Long Beach Community College District (LBCCD) since 2007, continuing the success of both campuses of Long Beach City College and its strong partnership with workforce and economic development within the City of Long Beach.
Oakley knows firsthand the benefits of community college. After spending four years in the U.S. Army, Oakley studied at Golden West College before transferring to University of California, Irvine, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental analysis/design and a master’s degree in business administration.
Oakley’s professional background includes: serving as an adjunct faculty member with Golden West College’s Environmental Technology Certificate program; managing risk services at Coast Community College District; working as assistant vice president of Keenan & Associates’ Property & Casualty Division and serving as vice president of college services at Oxnard College.
He first arrived at LBCCD in 2002 to become the assistant superintendent/executive vice president of administrative services, through which he supervised the Measure E bond construction program, campus finances and operations at Long Beach City College’s Liberal Arts Campus and Pacific Coast Campus.
Oakley has been appointed to the California Community College Commission on the Future, as well as the National American Association of Community Colleges’ 21st Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges. He is an active member of the Association of California Community Colleges Administrators, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Council of La Raza.
In addition, he serves on several local boards and committees, including the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, St. Mary’s Medical Center, YMCA of Greater Long Beach, Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, Long Beach Rotary Club and the Campaign for College Opportunity.
On January 27, Oakley was in Miami giving the luncheon address at the 19th Annual Workforce Development Institute. He spoke about the Presidents for Entrepreneurship Forum – a group of community college presidents committed to increasing the focus of entrepreneurship at community colleges – and the important role of community colleges in small business development. “As part of the California’s higher education community, we feel it is imperative to support entrepreneurship through our academic programs and active engagement in the region,” Oakley told attendees. “New businesses are vital to job creation and economic growth.”
In this interview, Oakley stressed the need to keep “moving forward” – with support for public school funding, with development projects, with community outreach and with economic development for those living, working and learning in Long Beach.
LBBJ: Describe the fiscal situation of Long Beach City College.
Oakley: The fiscal situation for the college is good. We are in good shape. Our board of trustees has done a good job of ensuring that we maintain a healthy degree of fiscal prudence, so at least for the foreseeable future, we feel that our reserves are sufficient to continue to get us through the economic crisis that California faces.
LBBJ: Is it going to get better, or worse?
Oakley: That’s the question of the day. At this point, we continue to prepare for some of the worst-case scenarios. Typically, public education lags in an economic recovery by at least a year. We don’t see the recovery yet, so we think we’re still a couple of years out before we see any new revenue. That’s how we are preparing.
LBBJ: What was your reaction to the governor’s proposed budget report and potential cuts impacting LBCC?
Oakley: On the one hand, we’re glad that the governor is seeking additional revenues and is looking to finally close the deficit in California’s state budget. However, it’s another year of uncertainty because those revenues are predicated upon a November ballot measure, which is well after we have to prepare a budget. So we’re going to have to prepare another budget that considers trigger cuts in January as a real possibility. In order for us to adequately protect the college, we’re going to have to build a budget that assumes that those revenues in November will not come in.
LBBJ: Have you had to cut classes or reduce enrollment?
Oakley: We’ve had to cut enrollment the last three semesters at least. These are directly related to the state budget and its impact on the community college system. We are funded based on enrollment, so with each cut there is a cut to our enrollment base. So we have to reduce enrollment in line with the revenue cuts. We’ve probably, over the last two years, cut enrollment back to where we were in 2000. ... This January, the trigger imposed another nearly $2 million of cuts on the college.
LBBJ: Has the college reinstated any core class sections since the economic downturn?
Oakley: We are focused on core class sections, those classes that lead to certificate, associate degrees and transfer readiness. We are trying to maintain the greatest number of those courses. We have not eliminated any programs, but we have reduced the number of sections in various programs. We’re focused on maintaining the core classes that the majority of our students need. The enrollment demand has certainly made it harder for students to get the courses they need, but we’ve been able to maintain a focus on those core courses that allow them to reach their education goal.
LBBJ: What programs are LBCC currently focused on expanding in 2012-2013?
Oakley: Not necessarily academic programs specifically, but programs that are designed to improve students’ ability to complete their courses. We have a Promise Pathways Initiative agenda we’re implementing. Basically it’s to continue that focus on Long Beach Unified [School District] and ourselves, work with students in high school to get them better prepared and, once they get here, put together a very prescriptive model for them to follow and then guarantee them their courses. That’s where we’re focused; ensuring that our students here in the Greater Long Beach area have the greatest opportunity to succeed in whatever educational goal that they have.
Our other focus is on the business development side; focusing on continuing to leverage and expand programs that are associated with small business development, like our Small Business Development Centers, the Goldman Sachs program ... we’re going to continue to focus on job creation through business development with a particular focus on small businesses.
LBBJ: In your State of the College Address, you noted that LBCC awarded more than 2,000 degrees and certificates in 2010-2011. How many degrees and certificates are awarded on average each year? Oakley: That’s a little down from the previous year, only because of the number of sections we reduced, but on average we’re at about 2,500 degrees and certificates a year.
Oakley: That’s a little down from the previous year, only because of the number of sections we reduced, but on average we’re at about 2,500 degrees and certificates a year.
LBBJ: In your biography at LBCC.edu, you argue, “when students drop out, the taxpayer loses out on its investment in human capital and the economy suffers.” What are the latest retention rates for LBCC, and what is the college doing today to help keep students on track for graduation or transfer?
Oakley: Let me answer that in reverse order. What we’re doing is a focus like the Promise Pathways, on a comprehensive, college-wide effort to focus on every step of the student’s experience here at Long Beach City College and to use data to help us predict where those areas are that impact students the most. For example, that transition between high school and their first-year experience in college – we’re focused on that. Ensuring that students get into math and English in their first year of college education. Those are areas that, data shows us, where students trip up the most. So we’re really focused on working through the data, working with our partners at Long Beach Unified and Cal State Long Beach to try and smooth out those barriers.
Now, the way we measure retention rates are, typically, fall to spring, and then fall to fall. Our fall-to-fall and fall-to-spring retention rates have been increasing slightly over the last three years. We’re probably around, for fall-to-spring, somewhere in the 70 percent retention rate. Fall-to-fall it drops a little bit more; probably in the mid-to-high 60 percent. We’re focused on increasing those numbers. Fortunately they have been increasing steadily over the last several years.
LBBJ: How has the partnership with the Small Business Administration and the Small Business Development Center – two programs that continue to benefit the local community – been successful in supporting the mission of Long Beach City College?
Oakley: One of the primary missions of the college is economic and workforce development. We have taken a direct focus on supporting businesses in the Greater Long Beach area – and, for that matter, the Greater Los Angeles area – in helping small businesses grow and add jobs. Programs like the [Goldman Sachs] 10,000 Small Businesses are designed to help businesses grow and add jobs. That’s the whole point of the program. We see that as a direct link to our mission of education and workforce preparation. We want to ensure that we’re not only educating students, but that we are linking their education to industries and an economy that is healthy and is adding jobs, while ensuring that the education is linked to the needs of those current industries and employers. We see that as one in the same. We have an incredible economic and resource development staff. We have great resources.
The fact of the matter is the federal government, foundations and, even to a certain extent, the State of California, has been trying to pump money into these workforce and economic development programs. So we’re trying to take advantage of this opportunity to bring as much of those resources into the Greater Long Beach area. I think we’ve been pretty successful. We hope that we are able to increase that. We have a great partnership with the Workforce Investment Board, with the City of Long Beach, so together we can make an impact so there are jobs that have livable wages for students when they complete their education here at Long Beach City or if they go on to Cal State Long Beach.
LBBJ: The college received bond funding through Measure E for construction projects that are part of the 2020 Master Plan. How well is the college meeting its goals for new development and renovations at its campuses?
Oakley: Right now we feel very good about where we are at with the implementation of the Measure E bond. As you know, we passed the initial bond measure back in 2002. We spent all that money, the $176 million we were authorized, plus we were able to leverage a great deal of money through state funding. Now we’re into the second bond measure, from 2008.
Right now we are well on our way working through our master plan for our facilities. We’ve got several buildings that are in construction right now. We’ve had to slow down a little bit because of the depression of the property values in Long Beach. One of the variables we use to determine our capacity is total valuation of property in Greater Long Beach. With the economic decline, those property values went down, so that slowed down our ability to go out and sell bonds. But it hasn’t really slowed down our projects thus far because we want to ensure that we don’t disrupt the campuses so much that our students can’t get to their classes. But we’re well on our way; probably a little more than halfway through all of our bond projects. We anticipate, at this point, that we will be continuing to build well into 2018.
LBBJ: What other 2020 Master Plan goals are slated for the 2011-2012 academic year?
Oakley: In terms of the facility master plan, we plan to finish our Building A [at the Liberal Arts Campus]. Our Building I, our new bookstore, will open up this spring. We plan to break ground on a new math, technology and culinary arts buildings across from [Building O], and that will begin construction by summer. At the Pacific Coast Campus, we have a major renovation of our academic building, the Multidisciplinary Academic Building. The first phase of that construction will be completed this spring, and then we will begin the second phase in the summer.
LBBJ: Do you feel Long Beach is moving in the right direction?
Oakley: I think so. This is a great community. Like every other large city, it has been hit hard by the economic downturn in California and the shift of the state government pushing a lot of the cost down to municipalities. That has certainly hurt the City of Long Beach. But the city, specifically, and in general, all its institutions, have fared fairly well. Credit goes to all the folks on the city council, the mayor and everyone involved, all the large institutions, for doing a good job of keeping focused on moving forward. I think that has positioned us all well to work together. I also think the fact that we can work together has really helped us continue to move forward.
When the economic development department of the City of Long Beach was hit hard because of the budget reductions, we were able to step in and work with the local Workforce Investment Board to pick up some of that slack. I think all of the major institutions in the Greater Long Beach area work very well together, and that has been a great benefit for the community through what we now call the Great Recession. It has kept us all moving forward with a focus on students and citizens of the Greater Long Beach area.
LBBJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Oakley: Although our schools, specifically Long Beach City College, continues to have a very forward perspective and I can say the college is still in good fiscal shape, I think particularly the business community and the folks here in the Greater Long Beach area need to know that we are getting very close to a point where the lack of funding for public schools is going to have a major impact on the community. There’s only so much that we, as public institutions, can do to continue to move forward without some sort of support from the state and federal government. So I think we are getting very close to that point, and the community needs to continue to rally around its public institutions to make sure we continue to serve the needs of business and the local community. It’s not something we can take for granted, that our public institutions will just continue to figure out how to get this done. We need the support of everyone to continue to move forward.