El Camino (Junior) College

El Camino College is a two-year public community college located in the unincorporated area of Los Angeles County known as Alondra Park.  In 1907, the California State Legislature, seeing a benefit to society in education beyond high school but realizing the load could not be carried by existing colleges, authorized the state’s high schools to create “junior colleges” to offer what were termed “postgraduate courses of study” similar to the courses offered in just the first two years of university studies.  I often learn new information from Wikipedia about my hometown and home state and, even though Wikipedia does not vouch for the accuracy of its facts, I know from personal experience that ECC was really thought of as the local high school extension program when I graduated from West (Torrance) High in 1972.

The El Camino Community College District was officially established as of July 1, 1947 and today serves nearly 23,000 students of a diverse background mostly drawn Southern California’s South Bay, including the cities of El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, Torrance, Lawndale, Hawthorne, Lennox, Gardena, and Inglewood.  Wikipedia lists the following diverse group of celebrities as ECC enrollees, though most did not graduate before they left school to pursue their dreams and finally gain financial success and public acclaim:  Frank Zappa (avant garde musician, Rock N Roll guitarist); Brian Wilson (Beach Boys founder); Chris Montez (singer); Suge Knight (Rap impresario); Fred Dryer (Actor, producer and former football defensive end in the NFL); Bo Derek (actress and celebrity);Chet Baker (jazz trumpeter and vocalist).

Many members of my school’s class of ’72 planned to “attend” ECC, which really meant they planned to register for classes to satisfy their parents’ post-graduation requirements that they either get a job or go to college.  Many of the surfer dudes and dudettes who matriculated in the local So Cal beach cities, plus a few Valley dudes and dudettes, briefly flashed their proofs of registration at any of the many local Junior Colleges, then merrily skipped out to play and party for as long as their parents bought that excuse as justification to continue to provide financial support to these older, but still juvenile in many ways, delinquents. “JC’s,” as they were dubbed by high school guidance counselors  who recommended them to these kids and their parents in hopes that some might benefit educationally, or at the very least be kept off the streets as bums, were very nearly free then, too, which was an added bonus for all concerned.

A brief history of California’s public education philosophy and resulting systems reveals that in this area my home state has for a very long time demonstrated forward thinking and a leading edge approach rare among its peers, one which continues to this day, even in today’s trying economic and social environment.  A collegiate “department” of Fresno High School was set up in fall of 1910.  This later became Fresno City College, which is the oldest existing public community college in California and the second oldest existing in the United States. In 1921, California passed legislation which allowed for the creation of community college districts and launched the current model of community colleges that would now offer general education courses for which knowledge and credits could be transferred to four year colleges and universities. The first ever transfer student was from Modesto Junior College and transferred to Stanford in 1922.

I never attended El Camino as a fulltime regular student at any point in my undergraduate, graduate or post-graduate educational programs.  That doesn’t mean, though, that I didn’t ever take advantage of the free, or at least very low cost, educational opportunities available to any and all Californians through the community college system.  I know I took a math class at ECC at some point, which I initially thought may have been a trigonometry class that I know is generally a pre-req for calculus, a subject which is now a requirement for admission to most of your better MBA programs.  I dodged that bullet, though, as it was not a requirement at UCLA’s Graduate School of Management when I applied there in 1978.

I have always done well with accounting, or any figuring that revolved around dollars and cents i.e. “real” numbers.  I struggled through basic Algebra in high school, which may have been a class that I repeated at ECC.   I really never progressed past basic Algebra, though I may have tried to do that at ECC.  I never understood made-up numbers, like sines or cosines or tangents, when I first encountered them while trying to prepare myself for grad school, just in case I might have needed to know at least what they were.  I might have been living in either the Los Angeles City College (LACC) or West Los Angeles (Community) College when I tried trig.  I don’t recall for sure, though, probably because I was so confused by just the full and proper name of that daunting subject.  I do recall, though, taking professional certification courses in contracts management at WLA, where I also clearly remember meeting a 6”8” dapper fellow student who was not a basketball player, or any other type of athlete, I don’t believe.  We went on exactly one date, where I learned that a Cadillac was the only standard automobile that could accommodate his length behind the wheel.  That guy and that date and that semi-related story were clearly memorable to me since I still recall all those details, though probably not to him since he never asked me out again.

Last in my ECC saga is a story that came to mind as I was writing this post, which I related to Husband as a reminder and a clear indication of the value my family put on education, along with a statement about how much it cost them to help me achieve this goal, even back in the 1970s, when college costs were considerably lower than they are now.  As I was graduating with my BA in International Relations from the University of Southern California, a private school which was very expensive then in relation to public universities, a gap which has closed considerably in the 21st century, my mom said “Look, my arm is staring to grow back,” by which she meant that she and Dad had been paying “an arm and a leg” to send me there.   My more reserved and ever-practical father took the opportunity to tell me, at that late date, that he wished I’d gone to El Camino first and then transferred to USC.  Thanks to Hubs and Dad for reminding me of one of the latter’s more endearing qualities.

The 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education was a turning point in higher education in California. The state funded four year college and university systems were to limit their enrollments, yet an overall goal was to “provide an appropriate place in California public higher education for every student who is willing and able to benefit from attendance”, meaning the junior colleges were to fulfill this role.   The Master Plan for Higher Education also banned tuition, as it was based on the ideal that public higher education should be free to students (just like K-12 primary and secondary education). As officially enacted, it states that public higher education “shall be tuition free to all residents.” Thus, California residents legally do not pay tuition. However, the state has suffered severe budget deficits ever since the enacting of Proposition 13 in 1978, which led to the imposition of per-unit enrollment fees for California residents (equivalent in all but name to tuition) at all community colleges to get around the legal ban on tuition. Non-resident and international students, however, do pay tuition, which at community colleges is usually an additional $100 per unit (or credit) on top of the standard enrollment fee. Since no other American state bans tuition in public higher education, this issue is unique to California. In the past decade, tuition and fees have fluctuated with the state’s budget. For much of the 1990s and early 2000s, enrollment fees ranged between $11 and $13 per credit. However, with the state’s budget deficits in the early-to-mid 2000s, fees rose to $18 per unit in 2003, and, by 2004, reached $26 per unit. Since then, fees dropped to $20 per unit, down $6 from January 2007, which was the lowest enrollment fee of any college or university in the United States.

Of course, that was almost ten years ago now, and I know, again from personal experience, that those costs, or fees, or tuition, or any combination thereof that they are called now, are going back up again.  I know this from my youngest daughter, the possible future psychiatrist, who recently completed refresher courses in biology and physics at Santa Monica College, yet another two-year, public community college located in the greater LA area, as preparation to hopefully perform well on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) which she plans to take for the first, and hopefully last, time next month.

The caliber of the student bodies, the challenge level of the coursework, and the competition for admission to any and all of the fine and still comparatively low cost institutions of the California Community Colleges System (CCCS) have risen dramatically since my spotty presence there during the 1970s and 80s.

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