El Camino College’s Compton Center poised for ‘major step’
Officials in late January hand-delivered papers requesting full college status for a Compton campus that has been run by El Camino Community College since 2006. The application was described as a milestone in an ongoing effort to restore the Compton campus to local control.
The El Camino Community College District agreed to take over operation of the campus, called the Compton Center, nine years ago, after mismanagement and financial scandal cost the Compton Community College District its accreditation, and nearly closed the Center.
Under El Camino’s stewardship, officials have worked to shore up the Compton Center’s tattered financial picture, and put in place new financial and academic practices, with greater accountability. Additional teachers have been hired, higher academic standards are being met, and enrollment has rebounded to previous highs.
Educators continue to plow through a multi-year process of winning back the accreditation that the Compton district lost, which would allow El Camino to return control of the campus to the Compton district.
But in the meantime, officials hope the Compton Center improvements will allow it to be formally upgraded from an “educational center” to a full community college, which must occur before there can be any return to local control.
“This is great news. It’s the first step toward our ultimate goal of full accreditation,” said Thomas E. Henry, a state-appointed special trustee who is stationed at the Compton campus to oversee operations. “It’s a major step.”
Henry and El Camino President Thomas Fallo traveled to Northern California on Friday to hand deliver the Compton College application to Barbara Beno, president of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. Beno will determine whether to present the application to the full commission for approval.
Henry and Fallo can point to numerous improvements at the Compton Center.
The most recent independent financial audit of the Center reported no “material weaknesses” in internal controls, and found no significant deficiencies in financial practices. A previous audit had found 26 significant deficiencies.
Recent auditors found that the campus ended the 2014 fiscal year with a reserve of $8.2 million, which is 24 percent of the general fund, well over the legally mandated 5 percent.
Additional teachers have been hired to bring the full-time faculty to 95 members. The Compton Center has met new goals for student success, including a 29 percent increase in “transfer-prepared” students, with at least 60 academic units that are accepted by universities.
A $25 million library, closed for seven years with code violations, was reopened last year, and stands as the visual centerpiece of the campus.
The campus’ shabby exterior was landscaped, and the look of the entrance improved.
“You might say landscaping, does that really matter? But now it looks like a college campus. A high school senior would say, ‘I want to come here, this looks like a college,’” Henry said.
The Compton Center’s enrollment has rebounded to its previous peak of 6,000 students, from a low of 1,600.
“When Compton lost its accreditation, and enrollment went down to 1,600, those students did not go [to another college],” Henry said. “It was just a lost opportunity…A lot of our students walk to school.”
In the early part of the century, the Compton campus came within a hair’s breadth of closing.
An “extraordinary audit” had found financial fraud, fake student enrollments, and computer equipment that was missing and unaccounted for. The Compton district’s accreditation was revoked. In 2005 a former trustee pleaded guilty to misappropriating more than $1 million in public funds.
Henry was appointed to save the Compton campus or shut it down.
“There weren’t a lot of options,” Henry said.
Then-state Sen. Mervyn Dymally was instrumental in securing an emergency $30 million loan, but before that occurred, Henry was scrambling to meet payroll and vendor costs.
“I had to beg the state for a $5 million advance in May , and I begged the county Board of Education and supervisors for a $5 million advance for June,” Henry said. “They could have said no, and nobody would get paid. We had a bankruptcy attorney back then.”
Henry’s only chance to keep the campus open was to find another community college district to take over its operations, using its own accreditation to back the student’s diplomas and certificates. Only El Camino answered the call.
“I sent [a formal request] to every college in the state, “Henry said. “I called, and went to meet with presidents and trustees…Without El Camino’s board of trustees, faculty and staff, without their leadership, it would have been closed.”