Contributed by Advance 360 Education
Guest: Dr. Rowena M. Tomaneng, President, San José City College
Dr. Rowena M. Tomaneng currently serves as President of San Jose City College (SJCC), a position she has held since late 2019. In addition, she teaches International and Multicultural Education and Leadership Studies at the University of San Francisco (USF). She is passionate about human rights, societal and racial equality and gender advocacy surrounding the education of Asian America and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Additionally, she serves as Vice President of the Asian Pacific Americans for Higher Education (APAHE).
Prior to her current roles, the lifelong Californian served as President of Berkeley City College (BCC) and held a variety of positions at De Anza College (DAC) including Associate Vice President of Instruction, Dean of Language Arts and faculty affiliate to the Asian Pacific American Leadership Institute (APALI). While at DAC, Tomaneng founded and served as co-Director of the Institute of Community and Civic Engagement (ICCE).
Tomaneng received a doctorate in international and multicultural education at USF, a master’s degree in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California-Irvine (UCI).
In this episode, Joe sits down for a conversation with San Jose City College President Dr. Rowena M. Tomaneng to discuss how her institution is supporting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) pursuing the dream of higher education. Dr. Tomaneng shares how her own college experience as a Philipina-American immigrant, led her into a career path in which she is able to support current and future AAPI college students. While she and SJCC faculty and staff have achieved a great deal of success in their mission to support AAPI students, Dr. Tomaneng realizes there remain challenges in providing these students with all of the resources she and her team feel would be beneficial. As she continues to follow her professional passion and build upon past success, Dr. Tomaneng talks with Joe about the future of higher education.
Professional Passion Led by Personal Experiences
“The person you're in the best position to help today is the person you needed growing up.”
Meet Dr. Rowena M. Tomaneng, a first-generation Filipina American immigrant and current San Jose City College President.
Throughout her twenty-five-year career serving California community college students, Dr. Tomaneng has shown a steadfast and passionate commitment to helping today’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community college students realize their dreams of a college education and a prosperous professional career.
Having begun her own undergraduate career as a community college student at California’s Cypress College, Dr. Tomaneng understands the unique challenges community college students grapple with in today’s higher education environment. And while her educational experiences allow her to establish common bonds with all of the students she serves at San Jose City College (SJCC), her experiences as a former first-generation Filipina-American community college student put her in a unique position to support fellow AAPI students pursuing a college education.
AAPI Representation in Higher Education Leadership
While her professional career has blossomed over the past 25 years, Dr. Tomaneng’s passion for helping the AAPI higher education community has never waned. She holds a soft spot in her heart for both AAPI community college students and fellow AAPI higher education professionals.
At SJCC, Dr. Tomaneng and her colleagues fully embrace the institution’s minority-serving status. The community college is dual designated as a Hispanic-serving institution (representing 47% of the student body) and as an Asian-American Native American Pacific Islander-serving institution (accounting for 30% of the student body). In holding dual designations, SJCC is eligible to apply for grants with the United States Department of Education and the City of San Jose.
However, despite the two minority groups accounting for three out of every four SJCC students, there is a disproportionate representation in higher education administration. Granted a stronger representation at the faculty level, the percentage of California AAPI higher education professionals holding leadership positions is extremely low at 6%.
Growing the Higher Ed AAPI Leadership Pipeline
Over the past 20 years, Dr. Tomaneng has worked tirelessly to help boost the AAPI leadership pipeline. In addition to being SJCC President, she serves as Vice President of Asian Pacific Americans for Higher Education. To better guide and support members of the AAPI community looking for leadership opportunities in higher education, the organization hosts annual leadership institutes, respectively, for practitioners at four-year universities as well as at two-year community colleges.
Supporting Students in Challenging Times
Between fall 2019 and fall 2022, SJCC experienced a 15% decline in enrollment. And when the pandemic arrived and shook-up higher education, Dr. Tomaneng and her leadership team went to work analyzing which student groups were most impacted and how the community college could better meet the needs of affected students.
In the early months of the pandemic, SJCC ran a zip code analysis to see if students from particular zip codes seemed to be impacted more than others. The results showed that many SJCC students were from the most impacted neighborhoods in terms of contracting COVID (East Side, San Jose). As a result, the institution ramped up its efforts to provide students with the support they needed in trying times.
Among the initiatives were a new interactive text messaging platform, chatbots for students inquiring about admissions and student records, counseling services and multiple outbound calling campaigns to remind students about SJCC student support resources. Federal COVID relief funds allocated to the institution also helped efforts. Dr. Tomaneng feels like institutions have and will continue to come out of the pandemic far more technologically ready. Institutions and faculty members will further embrace online education and the value it can provide to students. Ironically, much of it results from unintended consequences of the pandemic.
However, in implementing the various initiatives, SJCC leadership discovered that non-traditional students faced the greatest challenges. For example, non-traditional students needed greater flexibility in terms of class offerings, as many of them were working extra hours to help increase income during the pandemic. Another barrier for many SJCC students, as well as faculty and staff, were the high costs of living in the Silicon Valley Bay area. So while many of the initiatives have been a success, Dr. Tomaneng is committed to creating even more support resources for students.
Advance 360 Education Perspective
Dr. Tomaneng discusses two serious challenges in Higher Education when it comes to the AAPI community. One challenge is that AAPI leaders represent only 6% of the leadership within Higher Education in the state of California. The second challenge is that SJCC has seen a 15% decline in enrollment at from 2019 – 2021. Where 30% of the student population at SJCC is AAPI, it would make sense that if these students aren’t seeing themselves in the leadership at their institution, it can hinder their motivation to keep attending or enroll at all. While it would be ideal to see more AAPI leaders in higher education in the state of CA and across the country, the lack of representation is not the only reason schools like SJCC see a decline in enrollment.
SJCC being in an area that was hit hard by the pandemic, which has certainly been a factor in higher education enrollment. Students are not only dealing with how to make ends meet, but they have also had the added stress of health challenges. In addition, students have had to contend with fear and stress related to a drastic increase of racially motivated hate crimes in San Jose over the past few years.
It is admirable to see Dr. Tomaneng leading SJCC with a quick response on how to address the challenges from the pandemic. We support the use of data, just as they did, in order to learn more information about what their student population was dealing with in the height of the pandemic. They used the data to categorize types of students (i.e traditional and non-traditional) to understand any further challenges each group might have in continuing their education. With this information they were able to quickly pivot to add resourcess and support with each group’s challenges in mind. While this has been a distressing and challenging time, SJCC was able to take the resources and funding they had and were able to receive and apply it to benefit their students. Dr. Tomaneng also understands they need to take their learnings from the past couple years and apply it moving forward as circumstances have changed. It is clear that is takes additional resources and more flexibility for students to succeed today. We believe SJCC’s ability to pivot and adapt so quickly in a challenging time will help the school see an increase in enrollment over time. Their model is truly a great example other institutions can look at when it comes to addressing enrollment challenges with diverse populations.
Listen to SJCC President Dr. Rowena M. Tomaneng’s Entire Interview:
Episode 315 - The AAPI Pipeline with Dr. Rowena M. Tomaneng
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