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

On November 13th, The Campaign for College Opportunity partnered with EDvolution in Salinas, holding the final stop in the 14 city listening tour. Listening tour attendees represented higher education, k-12 education, state agencies, advocacy groups, and small businesses.

The conversations centered on four overarching themes of access, completion, accountability, and affordability. In breakout group discussions, participants were asked to discuss and 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 Salinas and surrounding areas.

Below are some of the priorities based upon group voting.

ACCESS

  • Expand eligibility through A-G requirements. Participants unanimously agreed that high school alignment with A-G requirements was essential. However, they also discussed the need for additional support structures to be in place. Participants suggested having a common definition of college readiness across higher education institutions and the need for parental knowledge of the requirements. Within the “access” category expanding eligibility was ranked the highest, while the bold reform category itself ranked second.
  • Expanding capacity.  This discussion was centered on two different topics, the ability to meet future workforce demands and acceptance of Californian students. Participants felt that colleges should have the capacity to take in more students from California in order to meet the work force demands. Funding needs to be increased to ensure adequate infrastructure to serve more students.
  • Technology. Participants agreed that there is a technology gap for students in Salinas. School children in the area are mostly Latino and farmworker children, they do not have access to technology at home to support computer related work. They felt that it was important to secure more computers to train these students, preparing them for the future. Although this was not voted as the top category, participants felt this was very important.

COMPLETION

  • Focus on accelerated college readiness. The top bold reform voted on during the day was to accelerate college readiness. Across the board participants agreed that college readiness was the most important and must begin at a younger age. The conversation centered on schools, contextualizing courses and integrating remediation in college level courses. They felt strongly that parents needed to aid their students, and that more needs to be done to close the gap.

ACCOUNTABILITY

  • Fund colleges for enrollment and completion. Participants felt that this was the most important within the “accountability” category. The funding model is now based on how many people enroll but instead they wanted a model that graduates students. Schools need to be incentivized based on how many people are completing college, not just how many students enrolling. However, many participants did worry if this model were in place would colleges then lower their standards to give their students a passing grade?
  • Empowering Regions. Many participants felt that the regional profile of Monterey bay didn’t capture the statistics in Salinas. There needs to be an approach that targets different areas around the state because Salinas is heavily agriculture based. Participants felt that there needs to be jobs available in the region that were not only related to agriculture, students need to feel like there are other options to stay in Salinas.

AFFORDABILITY

  • Expanding financial aid. Within the “affordability” category this surfaced as the most important. Participants favored increasing financial aid because students work jobs in order to be able to support themselves through school, but many are still unable to support themselves. Financial aid has not kept up with the rapid rise of college costs.

The energy and enthusiasm of Salinas Valley Listening Tour participants was palpable. Together, they are committed to building a regional college going culture so that they can help move families out of poverty and meet state level workforce needs.