Sunny Zia Being Sworn In

Long Beach City College District Board President Sunny Zia smiles as she's sworn in. She's one of several leaders taking on new roles at the college. 

Fresh faces are putting forth fresh ideas at Long Beach City College, where the plan is to keep increasing enrollment and decreasing the budget gap, while students head back to the classroom Monday for the start of fall semester.

LBCC Superintendent-President Reagan F. Romali said she’s excited to welcome back professors and students with the news that the institution has made an aggressive enrollment push and has slashed its deficit by more than $5.9 million — without layoffs or program cuts.

Romali, appointed in the summer 2017 and returning for her second year at the helm of the two-campus college, said her inherited 2017-18 budget included a deficit of about $10.7 million, which has now been reduced to about $4.8 million, with news of more successful reductions soon to be announced.

“In the next few months, we will address the remaining structural deficit and get LBCC back on solid financial ground,” she said, noting that cost savings so far have come from a supplemental early retirement program, scrimping on operational costs, and a boost to summer enrollment by about 21 percent.

“We want to keep cuts away from employees and student access,” she said, noting that she wants to keep the budget lean, putting money where it’s most effective for student success.

Total enrollment at LBCC is roughly 20,000 students and 2,300 employees, with an average annual budget of about $1.2 billion.

Romali said she wants to see enrollment increase, needing to recover 2,000 students over the next three years to meet certain state performance funding formula requirements, but her real goal is to provide a quality education to everyone in the community who wants that opportunity.

And, although the administration is still totaling the numbers from the spring, Romali said she wants triple LBCC’s graduation rate, giving that many more students a valuable piece of paper.

The school is already on its way toward that. Romali noted that graduation rates are increasing at the college, and more students are graduating with honors. For example, graduates in the 2017 class included 14 students with perfect grade point averages, and the class of 2018 included 44 such students.

“On graduation day, I want that line to be really long,” she said. “Every person in that line represents a life we impacted in a positive way.”

To increase student success, the college is opening two new welcome centers, one on each campus, with counselors and enrollment specialists there to help students get started. LBCC also is launching a Starfish Early Alert System that allows faculty to better communicate when they see a student struggling or succeeding in specific areas.

LBCC’s Healthy Viking Initiative also is adding expanded food banks, clothing and other resources for students who are homeless or struggling financially. And, a grant-funded Mental Health Initiative rolling out this year will provide free counseling services to students in need.

“This is a student success initiative,” Romali said about the mental health program. “We are finding ways to help students cope and stay in college.”

Also helping LBCC reach its goals, Romali praised the work of several new leaders now on staff at the college, including Vice President of Academic Affairs Kathy Scott, Vice President of Student Support Services Mike Muñoz, Vice President of Business Services Marlene Dunn, recently elected Trustee Uduak-Joe Ntuk and newly appointed LBCC District Board President Sunny Zia.

Zia, the first Iranian-American elected as president of the board, is serving her second term as a trustee. Besides focusing on transparent fiscal responsibility, Zia said she also wants to put the board’s energy into securing and strengthening strategic partnerships within the city’s business and labor communities. And she said she wants to boost student success by further supporting those facing homelessness.

“There’s so much great excitement and energy for the year,” Zia said, noting that she feels both humbled and honored that her colleagues selected her to serve as president.

Zia, an engineer who works at the Port of Long Beach, added that she’s delighted to work with fellow engineer and her newest trustee colleague, Ntuk. She said, “Trustee Ntuk has already shared great new ideas that he would like to implement,” since his swearing in last month.

Ntuk, who has a daughter enrolled at LBCC, said he’s felt a lot of support in his new role, and he is optimistic about the new school year. He said he hopes to help contribute to increasing enrollment, better serving the needs of students, and he is already working on a proposal for a student bus pass program done in coordination with Long Beach Transit. He also wants to start a “Strong Beach” podcast series online and host an Uptown Higher Education Town Hall this fall to increase civic engagement.

He noted that four new trustees have been elected in the past four years, bringing a new wave of energy to the college as everyone works together to improve completion rates, adapt to the new state funding formula, and grow programs that help students succeed in 21st century industries (such as LBCC’s new Maritime Center of Excellence, a partnership with the Port of Long Beach).

“I’m an LBCC alum — I was a teen parent at LBCC 20 years ago, playing football and working part-time —and it got me to the job I have today,” Ntuk said. “It’s good for me to give back to the institution that gave me my start.”

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