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

On June 16th together with the Orange County Business Council, the Campaign hosted a discussion with 22 leaders in the Orange County region. Those in attendance represented a broad cross section of stakeholders, including business, technology, philanthropy, local community organizations, K-12 education, and higher education.

Similar to our other stops, participants began by discussing their region’s performance in six key college measures (see the Orange County profile) then discussed four major areas that are critical to higher education reform—access, completion, accountability, and affordability. In smaller breakout groups the participants discussed reforms in each category and then ranked them in order of importance.

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

ACCESS

  • Expand eligibility through A-G completion. The groups expressed concern about utilizing a one-size fits all model through A-G. In particular, participants felt the increased focus on a 4-year college education without regards to other postsecondary options could be harmful. Suggestions for this category included placing more attention on applied learning and expanding counseling services to inform students of their options.
  • Expand capacity. While participants agreed that capacity does need to be expanded, they also felt budget issues and infrastructure issues among campuses undermine the idea of increasing historical admission targets. Alternatives offered among the groups included adding weekend classes and expanding online courses. There was consensus that innovative methods of delivering education were necessary and more appropriate in response to the capacity issue.
  • Leverage technology. Voted the third highest priority reform of the day, technology was seen as an important lever to improve higher education in the state. However, participants emphasized the use of a hybrid model in which technology compliments traditional instruction.

COMPLETION

  • Focus on equity. Some participants agreed that this was critical and highlighted the need to ensure equity includes ethnicity and gender. Other participants felt that emphasis should be placed on socio-economic status rather than ethnicity. Early intervention and parent involvement were cited as key to improving this issue.
  • Accelerate college readiness.  This reform was ranked the top priority of the day.  Participants felt strongly that more students needed to graduate high school fully prepared to enter college-level courses and that once they get to college, students should progress more quickly toward degree.

ACCOUNTABILITY

  • Fund colleges for enrollment and completion. The discussion in this category centered on the need for wrap around services to support students and ensure they complete their degrees in a timely manner. Participants believed that this was the most important reform under accountability.
  • Create a higher education coordinating body or office. This was the second top reform of the day. One group noted the importance of having open data available on the three higher education systems in the state while another group cautioned against the bureaucracy a new agency could create.
  • Empower regions. While most groups felt regional partnerships are working well where they exist in the state, there was also alarm over the capacity issues these partnerships face especially in regards to cost.

AFFORDABILITY

  • Improve financial aid access. There was consensus on the importance of encouraging students to apply for FAFSA as well improving financial aid education for parents and families. One group suggested changing the FAFSA application process so that students would only need to apply once.
  • Set a consistent fee policy. This reform was seen as a political issue having to do with the state’s budget cycle. Participants suggested a multi-year budget cycle would allow for this reform to be enacted and would help combat capacity issues.

Thank you to everyone who joined our Orange County stop and to the Orange County Business Council for graciously hosting us in their facilities!  Next stop: Santa Barbara!