The Office of the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges (Chancellor’s Office) reports that the California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the nation, with more than 2.3 million students attending its 113 colleges in the 2016–17 academic year. The Board of Governors for the California Community Colleges sets policy and provides guidance to its colleges, which are organized into 72 community college districts. The community college districts each have a locally elected board of trustees charged with the operations of the local colleges. The colleges operate under a system of shared governance. Intended to ensure that faculty, staff, and students have the right to participate effectively in district and college governance, shared governance consists of procedures established by districts’ governing boards to give these stakeholders the opportunity to express their opinions at the campus level and to ensure that their opinions are given every reasonable consideration. For example, the districts and colleges we reviewed use shared governance committees, such as budget or technology committees made up of faculty, staff, and students.
This audit focuses on the community college districts’ processes for replacing and upgrading information technology (IT) equipment. To educate students in an environment in which technology is continually changing, it is important to develop both long‑term plans and ongoing plans for replacing and upgrading IT equipment. The State’s 72 community college districts vary in size and composition, with 49 of the districts consisting of a single college and the remaining 23 districts containing two or more colleges. The multicollege districts average three colleges but have as many as nine. For this audit, we selected three districts that reflect this diversity in size as well as geography. Specifically, we reviewed two multicollege districts—Foothill–De Anza Community College District (Foothill–De Anza) in the Bay Area and Los Rios Community College District (Los Rios) in Northern California—and one single‑college district from Southern California, Cerritos Community College (Cerritos). Los Rios includes four colleges, and Foothill–De Anza has two colleges.
College Accreditation Process
State regulations require each community college to be an accredited institution. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC), is the accrediting agency for the community colleges in California. According to ACCJC’s Manual for Institutional Self‑Evaluation, accreditation is a system for regulating the quality of higher education by evaluating educational quality and institutional effectiveness on a regular basis. In its manual, ACCJC states that its accreditation process provides assurance to the public that the accredited member colleges meet accreditation standards of quality, that the education earned at the colleges is of value to the student who earned it, and that employers, trade‑ or profession‑related licensing agencies, and other colleges and universities can accept students’ credentials as legitimate. Further, accreditation is one of the requirements for community colleges to be eligible to receive federal aid, including grants for students.
ACCJC directs the accreditation process for the California Community Colleges, a process that includes several components of evaluation and review. According to ACCJC’s manual, accredited institutions participate in a comprehensive review for reaffirmation of accreditation once every seven years. As part of the review, institutions complete a self‑evaluation and undergo an external evaluation by a team of peer evaluators. These teams conduct a review following completion of institutional self‑evaluations to determine the extent to which an institution meets ACCJC’s standards. After the review, the teams of peer evaluators make recommendations for compliance and improvement that will help the college better meet ACCJC’s standards. The teams also commend excellent practices when appropriate and provide both the college and ACCJC with a report of their findings.
ACCJC has standards that cover a wide variety of college activities, including several related to IT. As shown in Figure 1, ACCJC has four general categories of accreditation standards, and within the resources category are standards that directly relate to IT.1 Our review of districts focused on some of the standards associated with resources and leadership and governance. These included standards involving policies and procedures that guide training in the use of technology, as well as ones involving planning for upgrades and replacements to technology.
Relevant ACCJC Accreditation Standards in Effect for the Most Recent Accreditation Reviews of Selected Colleges
Source: Selected 2012 ACCJC Accreditation Standards that apply to this audit.
Types of Campus IT and State Funding for Community College Districts
As part of their mission to educate students, community colleges acquire IT equipment. We determined that this IT equipment falls into two categories: technology equipment supporting the infrastructure of colleges and districts and instructional technology equipment supporting student learning. Infrastructure technology equipment includes items used throughout the college, such as computers for faculty and staff and networking equipment such as printers, switches, and Wi‑Fi devices. These items enable the colleges to receive and transmit information and support the general operations of the campus. In contrast, instructional technology equipment is installed for classroom purposes or for use by specific instructional departments, such as laptop computers for students in math labs and specialized printers.
The community college system in California is supported by an allocation of funding through the State’s annual budget process. State law requires the Board of Governors to prepare and adopt an annual statewide budget proposal, which includes funding for state operations of the Chancellor’s Office and local assistance funding for the community college districts. For fiscal year 2016–17, the Board of Governors’ budget request identified several priorities, such as increased funding for general operating and IT expenses and to hire more full‑time faculty. The Legislature appropriated more than $4.6 billion in local assistance funds for the community college districts, consisting of general apportionments of $3.1 billion for the districts and $1.5 billion for categorical programs to accomplish specific program objectives. According to the Chancellor’s Office’s deputy chancellor, the majority of these categorical funds are allocated to districts for local program implementation, but roughly $100 million is directed to statewide initiatives that the Chancellor’s Office manages in partnership with lead districts. This amount did not include a specified allocation for IT from the district apportionments, but it did include funding for IT projects directed by the Chancellor’s Office. For example, the Legislature appropriated nearly $28 million for telecommunications and technology infrastructure. We discuss an example of these projects in greater detail in the Audit Results.
To address the needs of individuals with disabilities, the federal government enacted the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehabilitation Act). The Rehabilitation Act states that no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from participating in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal assistance. As recipients of federal assistance, California’s community colleges are subject to the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act. In 1990 the federal government reinforced its commitment to individuals with disabilities by enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which provides individuals with disabilities civil rights protection and places emphasis on providing them with equal opportunity. Specific provisions of both the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA apply to programs and activities provided by public entities, including California’s community colleges.
In 1998 Congress enacted Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 508), which requires federal agencies to make electronic and IT accessible to individuals with disabilities. The law applies to federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and IT. Under Section 508, agencies must provide individuals with disabilities access to and use of information and data that are comparable to the access to and use of the information and data available to others. In 2002 the California Legislature amended state law to make the requirements of Section 508 applicable to public entities in California. Because California’s community colleges are public entities, they must comply with the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act, the ADA, and Section 508. Additionally, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, an independent federal agency that develops guidelines and standards for accessibility, published in January 2017 an update to the requirements for information and communication technology covered by Section 508. In part, the updated requirements are intended to clarify the types of internal or nonpublic electronic content that agencies must make accessible, including electronic educational materials. By January 2018, agencies will be required by federal law to apply accessibility standards to all information and communication technologies that they develop, purchase, maintain, or use, such as video, audio, web services, and software programs (instructional materials).
Examples of Services That Can Be Provided
by DSPS Offices
- Access to adaptive educational equipment, materials, and supplies.
- Assessment for learning disabilities.
- Facilitation of test taking, including adapting tests for and proctoring test taking by disabled students.
- Interpreter or captioning services for hearing-impaired or deaf students.
- Job placement and development services related to transitioning from school to employment.
- Mobility assistance.
- Note-taking and manual manipulation for classroom activities.
- Registration assistance.
- Specialized counseling.
- Specialized instruction.
- Specialized tutoring.
- Transcription services , including Braille and print materials.
Source: Education Code, section 67311.
Disabled student programs and services (DSPS) offices at California community colleges provide support services and educational accommodations to students with disabilities so that they can equally participate in and benefit from the college educational experience. As defined in state guidelines published by the Chancellor’s Office, the terms alternate media and accessible formats refer to methods of making information accessible to persons with disabilities. For example, DSPS offices can provide audio versions of textbooks to students with visual impairments. Additionally, colleges can provide specialized instruction or counseling as part of their DSPS programs. Examples of DSPS services are included in the text box. According to Chancellor’s Office data, more than 120,000 students with disabilities attended California community colleges during the 2015–16 academic year. These students have disabilities such as visual impairments, mobility impairments, hearing impairments, and psychological disabilities.
Federal regulations implementing Section 508 incorporate standards that ensure access to online services for persons with disabilities, based on the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (web accessibility guidelines). The consortium is an international community that develops open standards to ensure long‑term growth of the web. The guidelines present three levels that describe, in descending order from most severe to least severe, the effects of not complying with the standards, as shown in the text box. Colleges and universities nationally, including Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, and the University of California, Berkeley, have been subject to lawsuits and compliance reviews resulting from difficulties experienced by students with disabilities in accessing their respective web and IT resources. Further, in September 2015, a California community college settled a lawsuit with a student alleging discrimination because of a lack of accessibility in the college’s online instructional platform and related course materials. The district settled this case for $40,000 plus the plaintiff’s legal fees and agreed to take certain corrective actions.
Levels of Noncompliance With Website Accessibility Guidelines
Level A: Instances that a web content developer must satisfy; otherwise, one or more groups will find it impossible to access the information.
Level AA: Instances that a web content developer should satisfy; otherwise, one or more groups will find it difficult to access the information.
Level AAA: Instances that a web content developer may address; otherwise, one or more groups will find it somewhat difficult to access information.
Source: Web accessibility guidelines.
Chancellor’s Office Accessibility Activities
State law requires the Board of Governors to develop and implement a system for evaluating state‑funded programs and services for disabled students on each campus at least every five years. At a minimum, these systems are to provide for the gathering of outcome data, staff and student perceptions of program effectiveness, and data on the implementation of the program and the physical accessibility requirements of the Rehabilitation Act. Additionally, state law requires that every two years the Board of Governors submits a report to the Governor, the Legislature’s education policy committees, and the California Postsecondary Education Commission describing its efforts to serve students with disabilities. We discuss the most recent report later in this report.
State law also assigns statewide responsibility for reviewing and approving all new educational programs in the community colleges to the Board of Governors. The Board of Governors has delegated these responsibilities to the academic affairs division of the Chancellor’s Office. To meet these responsibilities, the Chancellor’s Office developed the California Community Colleges Curriculum Committee (Curriculum Committee), which coordinates efforts between local and statewide curriculum processes and provides guidance and recommendations on curriculum design to districts. Instructional programs that the Board of Governors approves include traditional face‑to‑face instruction as well as distance education, in which the instructor and students interact at a distance through the assistance of communication technology. State regulation specifies that the same quality standards that apply to traditionally delivered courses also apply to distance education, and that each course designed for delivery via distance education must be separately approved by the Curriculum Committee. To help colleges meet accessibility requirements when developing distance education courses, the Chancellor’s Office has established a task force consisting of campus experts in distance education, web accessibility, curriculum, instructional technology, and DSPS program management to produce accessibility guidelines for distance education.
1 Because the colleges we reviewed were most recently accredited by ACCJC under the June 2012 standards, we include those standards in Figure 1. ACCJC published updated standards in 2014, and the revised standards became the basis for comprehensive institutional evaluations for reaffirmation of accreditation beginning in spring 2016. Go back to text