Overview of the College Governance System

image of 4 cartoon-styled people

Your career as a community college teacher is greatly affected by the laws, standards, and procedures set down by a complex maze of statewide and local legislative and administrative bodies. The good news is that California does value the input of community college instructors and has provided mechanisms for their participation in decision-making through a process referred to as "shared governance." 

This process provides instructors an unmatched potential to play a significant role in determining the future of colleges. The bad news is that since the system is rather complex and not particularly user-friendly most new instructors do not understand how decisions are made and do not actively participate in the decision-making process. To help you understand how policies are made that affect your professional life, this section provides a brief overview of the the governance process and some of the critical issues facing community colleges. 
"What's That Stand For?" 

image man and question mark Acronyms

Confused about the meaning of one of the myriad of acronyms that are common in community colleges?  Just click on the question mark to the left for a guide to the alphabet soup of community college organizations, government agencies, etc.
First, A Quick Overview of How It All Fits Together

It usually helps to have a schematic of how everything fits together before delving into the details of a complex system. The flow chart on the popup page will provide a very generalized but useful guide to how policies that affect faculty and students are shaped. Pass your cursor over any image to get a brief description. After reviewing the decision-making flow chart, continue on to the more in-depth description of governance. Click here to get started.


The Faculty's Role in Community College Decision Making

image of business people looking at single computer   The Concept of Shared Governance

Shared governance is a process created by the California state legislature that guarantees faculty input in the decision-making process of community colleges. The purpose of the the law, AB 1725, was to provide a mechanism to insure that the expertise of the faculty would be used in developing college policies. Although the phrase "shared governance" is not found in the legislation,  it has become the commonly used description of the process that provides for faculty input. AB 1725 mandates that colleges "consult collegially" with local Academic Senates (the law also encourages colleges to seek active participation of other constituencies such as classified staff or students in appropriate areas). Consult collegially means that the district governing board shall develop policies on academic and professional matters through either or both of the following:
  1. Rely primarily upon the advice and judgment of the Academic Senate
  2. The governing board, or its designees, and the Academic Senate shall reach mutual agreement.
The state identified "academic and professional" matters as eleven specific areas:
  1. Curriculum, including establishing prerequisites
  2. Degree and certificate requirements
  3. Grading policy
  4. Educational program development
  5. Standards or policies regarding student preparation and success
  6. College governance structures, as related to faculty roles
  7. Faculty roles and involvement in accreditation processes
  8. Policies for professional development activities
  9. Processes for program review
  10. Processes for institutional planning and budget development
  11. Other academic and professional matters as mutually agreed upon.
Since each college determines exactly how shared governance will be implemented on its campus, the process varies widely in its scope and details. With relatively few exceptions, shared governance has provided California community college instructors with a vehicle for input into the decision making process unmatched in any other state. 

Faculty Organizations

There are four types of faculty organizations involved in community college governance in California:
  1. Academic Senates
  2. Lobbying organizations (the most important is the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges)
  3. Collective bargaining agents (usually affiliates of the California Teachers Association or the California Federation of Teachers)
  4. Part-time faculty organizations (the most widespread is the California Part-Time Faculty Association)

image of academic senate logo  Academic Senate

The most important faculty organization in community colleges is the Academic Senate. Through AB 1725, Academic Senates are the only organization given legal standing in the shared governance process. 

Each of the 108 community colleges have an Academic Senate to represent faculty on academic and professional matters. Typical issues that Senates address include all of the topics listed above in the section on shared governance. Most local Senates have representatives elected from divisions or departments, although smaller colleges may have at-large representation.

The Academic Senate of California Community Colleges (ASCCC) is the statewide organization representing local Senates. Each college, regardless of its size, is given one voting representative at the two annual conferences where position papers and resolutions are discussed. The ASCCC is also one of the organizations involved in the "consultation" process that provides input to the Board of Governors (see next page for more information).


image of FACCC logo  Faculty Association of California Community Colleges

Founded in 1953 by a group of Long Beach City College faculty members, the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges (FACCC) was originally named the California Junior College Faculty Council (CJCFC).

Since Prop 13 moved a significant portion of the funding (and therefore power) to the state Legislature, FACCC's main office is in Sacramento where its elected officials and professional lobbyists meet with members of the state executive and legislative branches.

FACCC advocates exclusively for community college faculty. FACCC analyzes issues that impact community colleges, develops policy and sponsors bills, and lobbies the governor, the chancellor, the legislature, and other state and federal agencies. 

Collective Bargaining Organizations

Most community colleges negotiate contracts with faculty collective bargaining organizations. Contracts cover salaries, working conditions, work load, grievance procedures, leave policies, and other locally determined issues. Some collective bargaining units include part-time instructors while others have two separate entities for full-time and adjunct faculty. 

The jurisdictional lines between the Academic Senate and the bargaining unit are not precise, but most campuses have developed good working relationships between the two organizations. 

Most community college bargaining units are affiliated with the California Teachers Association (CFT) or the California Federation of Teachers (CFT). These affiliations are coordinated through two statewide organizations, the Community College Association and the Community College Council.

image of CCA logo

The Community College Association is an affiliate of the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the National Education Association (NEA). CTA/NEA is the nation's largest educational organization, representing teachers from kindergarten to university.  The main function of the CCA is to provide services to local units, such as assistance in negotiations or grievance hearings. The CCA also holds numerous workshops throughout the state and lobbies the state government on matters pertaining to community colleges.


image of CCC logo  Community College Council

The Community College Council is the policy making body for the community college segment of the California Federation of Teachers, affilitated with the American Federation of Teachers. The Council is composed of presidents from all of the Federation community college locals in the state. Some of the larger community college districts in California, such as San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Los Rios, are represented by the CCC. The CCC operates much like the CCA, providing services to local campuses, holding workshops, and lobbying state officials.

image of CPFA logo  California Part-Time Faculty Association

While both the CCA and the CCC have divisions that represent part-time faculty, a separate organization, the California Part-time Faculty Association (CPFA), has been also created to further the the interests of adjunct faculty. The policy and goals of the CPFA include "abolishing the exploitation of part-time faculty by:

  • seeking legislative remedies;
  • protecting academic freedom for all faculty; and
  • acting as a coalition and resource base for various faculty organizations."


Official Bodies and Legislation

image of man and question mark Acronyms ( If you're unsure about an acronym just click the image to the left to get a list of definitions. )

image of voting and ballot box     Role of the public in guiding community colleges:

Compared to the UC and CSU systems, the public has always had a much larger role in determining the direction of community colleges. The very name "community college" reflects the intent that these colleges should meet the special needs of the local areas.

Originally, community colleges received all of their funding locally, but that situation changed dramatically after the passage of the well-known Prop. 13 in 1978 which greatly reduced property taxes. Today much of the revenue for community colleges comes from the state (the exact percentage varies between districts). However, while the state is continually gaining in influence over local policy, the local community still plays a very significant role in governing colleges. 

The public has several ways of influencing policy through its voting power in electing the governor, state legislatures, state judges, and, most directly, its local Board of Trustees. The public also has a voice in determining the fiscal fate of community colleges by voting on local and statewide bonds. This funding process has been dramatically changed by the passage of a ballot proposition in 2000 that reduced the bond approval percentage from 66% to 55%.

image of state capital building  Role of the California government:

The state has broad legislative and budget powers over the community colleges. These powers are shared mostly between the governor and the state legislature through the spending and tax powers. The state also passes legislation that defines community college structure, policy and procedure. These laws form the Education Code (see below), the highest level of education law in California. State courts interpret the Ed Code as well as other laws affecting teachers, colleges, and students.

How the budget process works:  The California governor submits a budget and a legislative package to the state legislature each January. This initial proposal is based on state revenue estimates that will be refined later. The budget includes spending to increase the base amount allocated to community colleges for things such as the cost-of-living (COLA), capital expenditures, or enrollment growth. There are also a few new spending items each year. Some of these initiatives have filtered up from the local level through the Chancellor's Office to the Community College Board of Governors, who makes formal recommendations to the governor. However, whether or not these recommendations are accepted by the governor greatly depends on his/her own priorities, the state's economic situation, and the public perception of community colleges vis--vis the other educational institutions. 

The legislature discusses these proposals during the spring and invites constituent groups in to make recommendations. The politics intensifies during this phase as all affected groups lobby to increase or maintain their budget allocations. As the actual state of the economy becomes clearer, the governor issues the "May revise," a revision of the budget to reflect changes since January. The legislature then has the rest of May and June to hammer out a final budget before the new fiscal year begins on July 1. The governor must sign the budget before it becomes effective but does possess a "line item veto" that enables the deletion of specific elements in the budget.

image of CA Board of Governors logo    Board of Governors

One of the key aspects of the California Community College System is that it is not really an integrated system like those of the University of California or the California State University. Community colleges are more like a confederation of 72 Districts that value their tradition of independence. 

The Community College System is headed by a Board of Governors, composed of a 16-member panel appointed by the state's  governor.  The main function of the Board is to provide policy direction for the community colleges and to formally interact with state and federal officials and other state organizations. The Board of Governors selects a Chancellor for the system. The Chancellor, through a formal process of "consultation,"  brings recommendations to the Board, which has the legislatively-granted authority to develop and implement policy for the colleges.   

Consultation comes from the concept of shared governance.   In the consultation process, a council composed of representatives of selected  community college institutional and organizational groups, assists in development and recommendation of policy.  The council includes representatives from each of the following:  chief executive officers, the Academic Senate, chief instructional officers, chief student services officers, chief business officers, chief human resources officers, chief student body government officers, faculty members, and community college organizations. The council meets regularly throughout the year. It develops and recommends policy, and reviews and comments on proposals developed by other groups, locally-elected boards, and the legislature.

The Chancellor's Office

The Chancellor's Office is the administrative coordinating body of the California Community College System.  Its work is primarily done through the following departments:

  • Educational Services and Economic Development Division: This division has broad responsibilities over distance education, library services, technology, vocational education, telecommunications, and workforce development. Many grants flow out of this division to colleges and individuals.
  • Fiscal Policy Division: One of the prime functions of this division is to plan for facilities throughout community colleges.
  • Human Resources Division: A job bank is one of the services of the HR Division. It is also responsible for staff development initiatives.
  • Policy, Planning and External Affairs: To assist in the planning efforts of the Chancellor's Office, this division is responsible for collecting enormous amounts of management of information (MIS) data from local colleges.
  • Student Services and Special Programs Division:  The primary goal of the Student Services and Special Programs Division is to ensure that all students have equal access to, and support in college courses needed to achieve their educational objectives.

image of CA postsecondary education commission logo  The California Postsecondary Education Commission

Established in 1974 by state law as California's planning and coordinating body for higher education under the provisions of the State Master Plan for Higher Education, the Commission serves an unique role in integrating fiscal, programmatic, and policy analysis about California's entire system of postsecondary education. The Commission is charged by law to: 
"assure the effective utilization of public postsecondary resources, thereby eliminating waste and unnecessary duplication, and to promote diversity, innovation and responsiveness to student and societal needs."

Among the Commission's responsibilities are:

  • Long-range planning
  • Policy development and analysis
  • Program administration
  • Review of new campuses and off-campus centers
  • State clearinghouse for information on higher education.

image of an open book   Education Law

California education law consists of the Education Code  (commonly referred to as the Ed Code) and Title V. The Ed Code is the highest level of education law in California, consisting of laws passed by the state legislature. It creates the general framework for all public education from kindergarten to university. The section of the Ed Code that deals with community colleges defines policies for issues such as:
  • Power and organization of the Board of Governors
  • Procedures for organizing local districts
  • The process for floating bonds for public approval
  • The rights of students
  • Fees that may be charged to students.

Title V consists of administrative law passed by the state governing bodies for each level of education. The authority to create these regulations is defined in the Ed Code. The Board of Governors approves regulations for community colleges. These regulations  cover such issues as 

  • Affirmative action
  • Credentials
  • The process for approving new colleges
  • Definitions of full and part-time faculty
  • Criteria for establishment of instructional programs
  • Special programs such as the Disabled Students or the Extended Opportunity Programs
  • Matriculation
  • Degrees and certificates
  • Academic calendars 

board meeting image   Local Boards & College Administration 

Each of the 72 community college districts in the state  has a locally-elected Board of Trustees, responsive to local community  needs and charged with the operations of the local colleges. The CEO of a multi-campus district is referred to as "Chancellor," and the CEO of a college, either in a single or multi-campus district, is called "President." Usually the board designee is the chancellor for district matters and the president for college matters. 

Most colleges have a committee structure to deal with various campus issues. There are only a handful of legislatively mandated committees, for example those dealing with curriculum or matriculation. Other committees are created by local colleges, but most follow the concept of shared governance and include representatives appointed by their constituency groups. The committees referenced may be either college committees or senate committees depending on the situation.