SAN FRANCISCO – California’s community college leaders have signed off on major policy changes aimed at boosting graduation and transfer rates in the 112-campus system, despite concerns the measures could hurt disadvantaged students.

The 22 recommendations will go to the state Legislature for review after the California Community Colleges’ governing board on Monday endorsed the measures recommended by the state-appointed Student Success Task Force.

Backers believe the proposals, if implemented, will help more students complete degree and certificate programs and transfer to University of California and California State University campuses. That would help reduce the number of dropouts and create a more educated workforce.

“We’re really doing all that we can to ensure student success,” Chancellor Jack Scott said Tuesday. “We want to have as few casualties as possible.”

Measures endorsed by the board would:

  • Give priority registration to first-time students and students making progress toward their academic goals.
  • Take priority registration or fee waivers from students who fail to make adequate progress.
  • Require all incoming students to develop education plans shortly after matriculating.
  • Have campuses give priority to courses needed for degree and certificate programs over enrichment courses catering to older adults.
  • Require campuses to keep scorecards to track completion and transfer rates of students of different backgrounds.

Some of the measures will require approval by the state Legislature or the community college system’s Board of Governors. Some can be carried out by school administrators, while others just call on campuses to adopt best practices.

Critics say the reform plan will move California’s community college system, the nation’s largest with 2.6 million students, away from its tradition of offering nearly universal access to higher education.

Some say without additional funding for student counseling and services, the proposed changes could hurt low-income students who need extra help to reach their academic goals.

“There’s a very big concern that the plan will impact both access and equity,” said Jonathan Lightman, executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges

Officials say the changes are needed because the cash-strapped state has cut funding to community colleges by 14 percent during the past three years, which has forced campuses to raise tuition and turn away tens of thousands of students.

“Now that the money has become scarce, we have got to prioritize,” Scott said. “The state has already forced us to ration courses. If we’re going to ration education, how should we do it intelligently?”