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

On August 7th the Campaign for College Opportunity met with one of the largest groups to-date in the statewide listening tour. Thirty-seven leaders of the Inland Empire region joined us and our co-host, The Inland Empire Economic Partnership, to discuss possible reforms in higher education access, completion, accountability and affordability.

Similar to our other stops, participants reviewed their region’s performance in key college measures (see the Inland Empire profile) and discussed reforms in each category and in smaller breakout groups, ranked the level of importance of each reform with an eye toward identifying those reforms that can 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. Participants felt that the biggest issue in eligibility for college has to do with students’ level of preparation in math and English and therefore, increasing support services to ensure better preparation is key. This was voted the top reform of the “Access” category.
  • Expand capacity. Participants took issue with expanding admissions targets as a means of access. There was no real consensus on debates arising from this reform, however the topic did lead to many discussions on college readiness and its relevance to expanding access.
  • Leverage technology. Participants supported the expanded use of technology, but emphasized it should be used as a supplemental online learning tool. Participants favored a hybrid model in which technology compliments traditional instruction.

COMPLETION

  • Participants concurred that all students should receive a quality education regardless of ethnicity or gender. Suggestions for improvement in this area included targeting underrepresented groups, developing group specific plans for improvement and replicating working models.
  • Accelerate college readiness.  This reform was the top ranked in the “Completion” category and third across all four categories. Participants felt strongly that California’s goal should be to reduce the number of students that need remediation. Groups listed accelerated remediation programs, better student support services and stronger teacher professional development as strategies to reach this goal.
  • Prioritizing new funding. This was voted the top reform of the day across all four categories. Participants agreed that new dollars for higher education should be tied to specific improvements that take into account equity gaps.

ACCOUNTABILITY

  • Fund colleges for enrollment and completion. Participants widely favored holding campuses, systems and even students accountable based on outcomes. The caveat for students being incentivizing based on completion of classes versus a degree. Many felt that incentivizing mattered for better school performance. Participants voted this the second most important reform of the day.
  • Create a higher education coordinating body or office. All groups understood the need for having a single entity collecting critical data, supporting k-16 alignment and collaboration. Yet, many participants expressed concern over this entity becoming bureaucratic and proposed instead to introduce legislation that mandated the system heads to meet, collaborate and publicly share data.
  • Empower regions. Although participants saw the value of regional governance models, they did not feel that it was a universal model for all regions considering the fact that students are more prone to migrate to popular regions and leave isolated regions after graduating. Participants noted this as a problem that their region frequently faces.

AFFORDABILITY

  • Improve financial aid access. Participants considered FAFSA the primary gatekeeper and stepping stone into college for students, drawing significant consensus on this reform. Participants suggested including paid internships as part of the financial aid package so that students leave college better trained in their field while earning money.
  • Expand financial aid for community college students. Voted the top reform of the category, participants agreed that financial aid should be expanded for community college students to include living costs. Groups pushed the idea of expanded aid for all students.
  • Set a consistent fee policy. Participants liked the idea of a consistent fee policy, but felt that a consistent budget was necessary before this could be instituted. They also stressed the need to remove any mid-year changes from the budget.

Thank you to everyone who joined our Inland Empire Listening Tour Stop and the Inland Economic Partnership for graciously hosting us in their facilities!  Next stop: Bakersfield!