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For more than a half-century, California has enjoyed one of the best community college systems on the planet, and during most of that time, Central Coast residents have had access to one of the best of the best - Allan Hancock College.

Now, because the early 21st century is presenting a case for a new educational paradigm, change is coming.

The California Community Colleges Board of Governors last week endorsed a list of wide-ranging reforms, the overall purpose of which is to redirect the path for students to both graduate, and move on to finish a four-year degree.

It is an especially bold move, and not altogether agreeable to everyone.

For the most part, the system's managers have to face the reality of a collapse in the funding net from the state, the result of decades of general fiscal mismanagement, and a Great Recession that has managed to change just about everyone's life in one way or another.

The state's budget problems have translated to real-time issues for the 2.6 million mostly young Californians who depend on community colleges to help them build a solid career foundation.

We mentioned the reform package is not universally accepted. Most of the opposition is coming from students who see the reorganization strategy as penalizing low-income and other disadvantaged students. More about that in a moment.

What has so many young people upset is that, for the past half-century, community colleges have been following the state's Master Plan for High Education, which essentially ensures that community colleges - unlike so many four-year colleges and universities - will be open to everyone, and at relatively low cost.

That strategy has worked to near perfection for the past 50 years. Young people from all walks of life - and some not so young - have taken advantage of readily accessible, affordable  classes at community colleges.

The success of that way of doing things can be found everywhere on the Central Coast. Rare is the business or government agency that doesn't have Hancock College grads, or workers who improved and enhanced their skills in one or more of Hancock's course offerings.

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Hancock officials support the Board of Governors' policy shift, including tougher requirements for enrolling students, especially with regard to new standards for language and math skills. Critics say that will keep some poor and disadvantaged students from their starting higher education at a community college.

That's a possibility, but Hancock officials told us last week of their strategy to offset the new requirements, which includes the college organizing a series of events at which students, prospective students and their parents will be guided through the process of applying for federal aid.

Individual students could qualify for thousands of dollars in aid - enough to get them started toward a degree and/or a transfer to a four-year college or university.

Hancock officials made it abundantly clear that, no matter what direction reform takes, the college will remain true to its core missions - remedial education, job training, degree attainment and facilitating transfers to continue higher education.

In the end, California's community college managers have little choice in the matter. It's either reform the system to better accommodate funding levels, or seriously damage the intended end result. It's a financial situation that most of us can fully appreciate, having learned so many harsh lessons from the Great Recession.

And besides, Hancock College has performed so splendidly with regard to that half-century-old core mission, we can't imagine those folks giving the Central Coast communities anything but their very best effort.

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