How can California begin to plan to meet the looming workforce shortage?

Nearing the end of a very exciting and informative listening tour, the Campaign for College Opportunity made one of its final stops in Bakersfield. The Dolores Huerta Foundation graciously hosted the Campaign and twenty-seven Central Valley leaders on Friday, August 8th to discuss bold reforms for higher education in California and provide feedback for a statewide plan. The individuals in attendance represented a broad cross section of stakeholders, including business, local nonprofits, K-12 education, and higher education.

The group engaged in an energetic conversation regarding their region’s current performance in college measures (see the South San Joaquin Valley profile) and issues of access, completion, affordability and accountability. In breakout group discussions, participants were asked to rank the bold reforms presented in each category, and then to vote for their top four reforms overall so that The Campaign could get a sense of the priorities outlined by community leaders in the this region.
Below are some of the top priorities captured from the discussions and group voting.

ACCESS

  • Expanding eligibility was voted the top priority under the category and tied with accelerating college readiness for the top reform of the day overall. The groups noted the quality of skills that students could gain from A-G as the default curriculum as well as the opportunity it held for access, but had some concerns about its implementation. They cited possible misalignment with Common Core, a compressed and accelerated curriculum and inadequately prepared teachers as key barriers of success in this reform. Still, they believed that if properly implemented, A-G would vastly improve access for students.
  • Leverage Technology. Although participants agreed that a conversation about leveraging technology is necessary, they felt that the issue of access to technology was a more immediate problem for the region. Participants shared the different ways in which their region was experimenting with incorporating technology in the classroom and some of the programs they are piloting.

COMPLETION

  • Accelerating college readiness was voted the top priority under the category and tied with expanding eligibility for the top reform of the day overall. Participants believed that accelerating college readiness was a critical piece of college completion, but is an issue that would be most effectively dealt with at the high school level. Participants suggested beginning remediation during the student’s junior year of high school and offering summer bridge programs for incoming college freshmen to help prepare students for college level courses.
  • Focus on equity was voted the third reform overall by participants. This region viewed equity as a sum of socio-economic and generational issues more so than an issue of race. Participants felt that the region needed stronger community partnerships, financial awareness campaigns and more support systems tailored to students’ economic status in order to address this issue.

ACCOUTABILITY

  • Empowering regions and coordinating body or office. Although empowering regions was voted the top reform of the category, participants felt strongly that higher education goals should not be an either/or decision between state and regional governance and coordination; both are important. They agreed that data was a critical element that informed the conversation and needs to be present regardless of the model adopted.
  • Fund Colleges for Enrollment or Completion. Although there was disagreement on the funding model that should be used to keep colleges and students accountable, participants agreed that we needed to be intentional about disbursing funds, without harming the quality of the curriculum, degrees or courses.

AFFORDABILITY

  • Participants spoke about affordability as an educational matter. They felt that financial literacy was a huge need for the region as students were unaware of the resources meant to ease financial burdens for them. They added that this illiteracy of financial aid and the FAFSA process is leaving many unused dollars on the table.

Bakersfield participants were excited to gather to share their thoughts about what would move the needle on higher education in their region and expressed gratitude in having these discussions with the Campaign. Next stop, Coachella Valley!