Nation, World + Society

UCLA alumna charts community college students' path to success

President Linda D. Rose of Los Angeles Southwest College knows struggles of older, returning students

Linda D. Rose

Linda D. Rose was a 34-year-old working mother of two young boys when she decided to enroll in a community college. She later completed the Educational Leadership Program at UCLA and now heads Los Angeles Southwest College as its president.

After serving as president of Los Angeles Southwest College for nearly a year, Linda D. Rose has defined the path she wants her campus to take, in part inspired by her own habit of creating “vision boards” with her friends to chart where they wanted to be in the next 10 years.

It’s been a practice the former English teacher once handed down to community college students in the form of an assignment to write down their own personal goals. “Research shows if you’re focused on what you’re doing and you’re organized about it, it gets done,” said Rose, an alumna of the Educational Leadership Program in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA.

Growing up in the South Los Angeles community that Southwest College serves, Rose did not always aspire to high educational goals. In middle and high school, her performance floundered. She laughs when she recalls the shocked reaction of her sons — both graduates of CSU Long Beach and electrical engineers — when she showed them her less than exemplary report cards.

“My mom didn’t graduate from high school; neither did my stepfather,” Rose said. “I was one of eight kids, so the goal was just to graduate from high school without getting pregnant. I didn’t go to college. I started working at a factory when I graduated from high school and got married when I was 19.

“That’s why I’m empathetic with students in community college. I truly understand the adults who have the desire to [gain an education], but they don’t know how to do it.”

At 34, Rose was a mom with two sons, a high school diploma and a job at what was then TRW when she decided to enter PACE (Program for Accelerated College Education) at West Los Angeles College after watching her colleagues return to college to advance their careers.

“The PACE program caters to adults, and, because the faculty understand that they aren’t teaching kids, the success rate is phenomenal — the majority of students graduate,” Rose said. “I did it initially to earn more money where I was working, but I thought, ‘Wait a minute – I don’t have to stay here.’’’

Rose continued to work at TRW while pursuing her bachelor’s degree, and eventually her master’s degree at CSU Dominguez Hills, an achievement that propelled her to her first teaching job in the English department at Cerritos College and later to an administrative career. After serving as an instructional dean in the liberal arts division at Cerritos College, she became vice president of academic affairs at Santa Ana College before taking the helm at Southwest last summer.

While still at Cerritos College, Rose began her studies at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

“One of the things that helped me when I was at UCLA was to learn how to look at higher education more holistically and more globally,” she said. “That is why I wanted to go to UCLA’s program as opposed to other Ed.D.programs [that] only focused on community colleges. I wanted a more global perspective about education, period, not just [in] one area.”

The traditional view of a community college as a smorgasbord of electives or as a path to a terminal associate’s degree needs to change, Rose said, given today’s job market.

“[Students] want direction — they need direction. And we should be able to provide pathways for them … especially where we have high poverty and overwhelming socioeconomic issues. Are we educating students for the hell of it? Or are we educating students so that they can do something with what they get? Even English majors have to eat.”

Approximately 30 percent of Southwest students are older, returning students; the population is largely women between the ages of 19 and 34. Rose noted many are underprepared and under-resourced for college — but not unreachable.

“These students are not just right out of high school, and that makes a difference — they already have basic skills,” she said. “It’s not that they don’t have the mental capacity to do the work; they are underprepared to do [college] work, and we need to find ways to prepare them.”

Currently, Rose is planning to bring back One Way, Inc., a local nonprofit focused on the success of African-American boys and men, this fall to L.A. Southwest where it originated. She is also planning to expand services in the college’s Passages program for males of color. On her wish list is an initiative for male and female veterans as well as doing more outreach to middle schools to build a college-bound student population.

 “I don’t want to be just another new president, putting programs in place,” Rose said. “It’s really important for me that the things I do while I’m here will be here for a while. I’m not going to be here forever. Presidents come with their own agendas, and when they go away, the agenda goes away.

“One of the things that is going to be really important for me is to get people to collaborate,” she said. “In higher education, we have silos. We need to be collaborating and partnering more, because we’ll end up with more.”

Read the complete story in Ampersand, an online magazine of the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA.

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