Updated: Mar 8, 2019

October 13, 2018

By Veronica Perry

Community college plays an integral role in the lives of many young adults. It provides  a progressive environment to hone skills, find inspiration and serves as a strong foundation to those who seek a higher education. Consisting of 115 colleges and 72 districts, the California Community College system is the largest higher education system in the country. Los Rios Community College District (LRCCD), consisting of American River, Sacramento City, Cosumnes River and Folsom Lake Colleges, is the second largest district in California serving over 75,000 students each year.

With an organization this size, LRCCD has an extraordinary amount of resources and capacity to serve students in their educational goals and affect the community in positive ways. The Sacramento Spotlight spoke with Gabe Ross, the Associate Vice Chancellor of Communication and Media Relations for the Los Rios Community College District to gain insight about how, specifically, LRCCD impacts the Sacramento community.

Ross has 15 years of public relations experience in the professional sports industry, which includes providing PR support for the Sacramento River Cats. He served 8 years in public education leadership and will celebrate 2 years in his current role at Los Rios this November. Ross supports the Chancellor of the Los Rios District, Brian King, to carry out district-wide initiatives that aim to create a better student experience and a stronger, more unified community.

Institutions of higher education bring a depth of cultural value to the community. They foster openness, engagement and connection amongst diverse individuals. Community colleges also provide a space that allows for the exchange of thoughts, ideas and subject matter knowledge. Ross describes them as “the centerpoint for progressive conversion in our community.”

The presence of community colleges is not just beneficial to the students, but to the economy as well. For an economy to thrive, it needs an educated workforce.

“Yes we need bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees, but we also need skilled workers and certificates,” Ross says. “There is an extraordinary need for skilled workers. We are helping deliver a skilled and. educated workforce to the entire Sacramento region.”

The purpose of community college is to provide individuals with a quality, affordable option to postsecondary education. Making it easier for students to reap the benefits of attending a community college, Ross explained a new opportunity called the “Los Rios Promise.”

“The Los Rios Promise guarantees the first year of tuition free for full-time students across the district. That, combined with the California Promise Grant (Bog Fee Waiver), about ⅔ of our students won't pay tuition fees at all now. Tuition is sort of off the table for our students.”

The goal of the Los Rios Promise is to reward individuals who commit to being students by lessening or even eliminating educational costs while also creating strong pathways to UC or CSU. Currently, LRCCD is promoting this opportunity through a district-wide marketing campaign called “Smart Move”.

“Attending community college is a smart move,” Ross explains. “Whether you are a first generation college student that has not thought of college as an option, or you are a high achiever who wants to attend Berkeley, but want to save money. Either way, it is a smart move. We want our students to go on from here. If we are doing our job well, students should not be in our doors for very long," he goes on to say.

As ideologies change across the nation, the conversation in community colleges has shifted from access to preparing individuals for the workforce.

Although community college is a great place to explore a variety of subjects, Ross addresses how LRCCD plans to provide timely support and direction to students. “There are potential negative impacts of blind exploration in community college,” Ross says. “It's our job to to know how to reach out to the students at the right time to make sure they are getting the support they need.”

LRCCD is currently investing in a “Guided Pathways” initiative to provide additional direction and support to their students. “The fundamental premise of Guided Pathways is making the college experience easier for a student,” Ross explains. “Once a student gets in the door, we want to get them to the right classes and on the right path to their degree as quickly and as easily as possible.” However, he also encourages current students who are attending an LRCCD college to ask questions and to be their own advocate.

In support of the Guided Pathways initiative, LRCCD is also working to redesign the student experience by simplifying the on-boarding process, centralizing online education and fostering better coordination between the four colleges.

“This is a new dynamic for Los Rios because our colleges have largely operated as independent entities,” Ross says. “Overall, it is rewarding to work for an organization that I believe in my heart is doing good work and is full of good people who genuinely care about the students that we serve and how those students go on to affect our community.”