(The Bolsavik did this for his job at Nguoi Viet, here)
In the City and County of San Francisco, there’s only one Viet elected official.
That sole Vietnamese-American is Steve Ngo, elected in 2008 to a seat on the Board of Trustees for the San Francisco Community College District.
The District is one of the largest in the nation and serves over 100,000 students.
Ngo is born in Lexington, Kentucky, in a Viet refugee family. After fleeing Vietnam for the United States, Steve’s mother worked as a waitress and nail salon technician in New Orleans, Louisiana. After 20 years, she eventually opened her own nail salon business. His father took jobs as a busboy, roofer, and chef, and later attended community college to become an auto body repair technician. According to Ngo, his mother only had a third grade education and his father only completed the eighth grade, but “in America they were able to build a better life through hard work and vocational education.”
Ngo became an attorney and practiced election law and civil litigation, before winning office. Previously, Ngo was a budget consultant for the California State Assembly Budget Committee, where he was a recipient of the Jesse M. Unruh Assembly Fellowship.
Ngo received his B.A. from UCLA. He later received his Master of Public Policy from Georgetown and a law degree from UC Hastings in San Francisco, where he was elected student body president.
Vũ Quí Hạo Nhiên (NV): What in your views are the most important missions of a community college in educating its students?
Steve Ngo: The fundamental purpose of the community colleges is to provide lifelong access to education and training. The United States, and California in particular, have a competitive advantage in that its citizens can enter or re-enter the pipeline for advanced training or higher education at will.
NV: With 4-year college tuition rising rapidly, do you see an increase in students choosing the community colleges as a low-cost alternative to the first 2 years of college instead of heading straight to UC or other 4-year colleges after high school?
Steve Ngo: Yes, absolutely, based on simple laws of economics. We cannot, however, continue to price our citizens out of a good that is both private and public. Moreover, even as the laws of supply and demand push more students into our community college system, we also have to ensure that the system can handle the increased demand for education. Otherwise, the state simply pushes our citizens out of education entirely. That is a disaster with long-term economic and social implications.
NV: In the same vein, do you see an increase in students who are already enrolled at UC, CSU, or other 4-year schools, taking community college classes to save money?
Steve Ngo: Yes, but again, the problem is whether the state will fund the community colleges to adequately handle the increased demand for its services.
NV: For the non-transfer students, what does statistics say about their employability after community college? What majors or courses of study seem to do better, in terms of jobs and salaries?
Steve Ngo: Studies show that by 2018 63 percent of all jobs will require a degree beyond high school. But the most pressing fact is the nascent retirement of the baby boomers, which will at once create jobs to provide for their care and jobs to be filled by their exit from the workforce. There will also be demand for workers as the economy continues to grow in the post-industrial era. You need to get a post-secondary degree to compete in the workforce for jobs in most sectors. Our state budget must have the foresight and vision to contemplate this reality. Past budgets did not.
NV: Is the budget situation worse at the community colleges compared to UC or CSU?
Steve Ngo: I won’t speak for UC or CSU, but the community colleges have sliced their budgets down to the bone, and have still been able to provide moderate access to the increased demand. But we should be doing more for our citizens and getting them – and the state – ready for the economy of the future. The funding levels do not reflect that commitment.
NV: Compared to other community colleges, how is SFCC doing budget-wise?
Steve Ngo: We are one of the largest community colleges in the state, mainly due to our large immigrant population enrolled in our English as a Second Language courses. Because these courses get funded at a lower level than general education courses, the system is at an inherent disadvantage. But it shouldn’t be. These types of courses are the bedrock of the system of education that the state must provide to all of its citizens if we are to build a future in California that is vibrant, prosperous and just.
NV: How are SFCC transfer students coping with the increased costs and restricted admissions at UC and CSU?
Steve Ngo: Our students are resilient, but as a society, we shouldn’t have to make the burden harder to obtain a college degree. Individual families would not make it harder for the children to go to school; our state, too, cannot continue to make it harder for our citizens to get a degree. The lack of funding means lack of counselors to advise them on college and financial aid options and it means a lack of courses to help them transfer in time to the four-year college of their choice.
What people must know is that the Obama Administration and the Democratic-controlled congress enacted two vital laws that were smart about our future: (1) the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act was the largest investment in higher education in a generation, cutting bank subsidies and providing the savings from that money to increase financial aid to low-income students, and (2) the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the “stimulus,” which enabled schools, including at our college, to keep teachers and counselors from being laid off. These are the people who help get our students where they need to go. So the long answer to this question is our students have been able to cope in due part to the work of our teachers, counselors and staff, and also because of the leadership of President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, George Miller and the U.S. Senate.
NV: Does SFCC have specific programs to help unemployed mid-career people find jobs?
Steve Ngo: Yes, our Career and Technical Education programs run the gamut. We are also working to improve our vocational ESL programs so that all San Franciscans can have better access to those jobs in the sectors that are growing the fastest in our economy.