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

On September 10th the Campaign for College Opportunity embarked on it’s next to last statewide listening tour. The Campaign partnered with Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, an organization already in the process of creating their own regional plan to develop, refine and sustain career pathways for students in their region. Twenty-one leaders joined us, to discuss possible reforms in higher education in the categories of access, completion, accountability and affordability.

Similar to our other stops, participants reviewed their region’s performance in key college measures (see the Coachella Valley profile) and discussed reforms in each category and in smaller breakout groups, ranked the level of importance of each reform noting which had the potential to make the most significant impact on college going and success.

The following is a summary of the discussion and an overview of the voting outcomes.

ACCESS

    • Expand eligibility through A-G completion. Most participants felt that making A-G requirements the default curriculum would expand opportunities for all students. However, they stressed that the A-G curriculum would only be effective if it truly translated into college readiness. This was voted the top reform of the category for the group.
    • Expand capacity. Participants agreed that increasing enrollment would be beneficial to student access, but felt that the reform would be difficult to implement without increased funding and resources for the systems. They saw integration of technology and an emphasis on dual enrollment as more practical ways to expand capacity.
    • Leverage technology. Participants were optimistic about the potential of technology to boost access and for this reason voted it the second most important reform of the day. They noted schedule flexibility, hybrid teaching models, and reduced costs as positive outcomes of leveraging technology. However, they also acknowledged the barrier it could create for students without the means to access it.

COMPLETION

    • Focus on equity. Participants felt that there should be a focus on equity for race, income and gender with targeted goals specific to each group. Many stressed the need to further educate parents, students and counselors on navigating the college process.
    • Accelerate college readiness. Participants listed this as a top priority for their region and ranked it the top reform of the day across all four categories. Participants felt strongly that being prepared for college level work was key to completion and wanted tangible ways to measure readiness. They identified poor test taking skills and remediation practices as the greatest barriers to accelerating college readiness.
    • Prioritizing new funding. Participants agreed that new funding should reward good practices focused on improving completion rates, but should not be dependent on campuses reaching target completion rates. They identified several factors that contribute to low completion rates and felt students and schools should not be penalized for factors over which they have no control such as counselor to student ratios and larger percentages of students that need to be remediated at their campuses.

ACCOUNTABILITY

    • Fund colleges for enrollment and completion. Participants suggested implementing a model that incentivized students and colleges to improve completion rates. Many cautioned against a model that penalized schools or students, noting that there are many factors affecting enrollment and completion rates.
    • Create a higher education coordinating body or office. This reform was voted the top reform of the category and tied for third overall. Participants saw the value in having a coordinating body that would ensure the systems’ collaborate but also expressed concern over added bureaucracy. Some suggested the department of education should be the guiding entity, however most felt that a body with clear objectives, power to enforce change and collect data would be ideal.
    • Empower regions. Participants saw value in regional plans tailored to meet the workforce needs and educational goals of each region, but believed it would be better to use each region’s data and resources to inform statewide goals.

AFFORDABILITY

    • Expand financial aid for community college students. Participants agreed that financial aid should be expanded for community college students to include living costs as this accounts for roughly 80% of student’s expenses.
    • Improve financial aid access. There was consensus across the groups that FAFSA completion should be required for all graduating high school seniors. This group listed this as a priority in their regional plan.
    • Set a consistent fee policy. Participants voted this the top reform of the category. They felt that a consistent fee policy would offer much needed predictability for students.

Thank you to everyone who joined our Coachella Valley Listening Tour Stop and the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership for graciously hosting us in their facilities. Last Stop: Central Coast!