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

On June 18th, the Campaign held a listening tour stop at the beautifully-situated McConnell Foundation in Redding, California. The North State Region of California is a region with new public higher education options for students, with UC Davis being the most northern University of California campus, and CSU Chico and CSU Humboldt being the most nearby California State University campuses. Despite the scarcity of public options in the region, keeping the promise of a college education is still something that residents deeply value. Listening tour attendees represented higher education (public and private), K-12, philanthropy, local media, state elected officials, and local government agencies and community organizations.

The conversation began with a review of the region’s performance on six key college measures (see the Superior California profile) and moved to the four overarching themes of access, completion, accountability, and affordability. 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 Redding and surrounding areas.

Below are some of the top level priorities that rose to the surface based upon group voting.

ACCESS

  • Expand eligibility through A-G completion. This reform ranked top under access, and also fourth among all of the reforms discussed. In small rural communities, many schools simply do not have enough resources to be able to provide A-G pathways right now—right now your zip code determines your destiny, a participant said—but by making A-G the default high school graduation requirement, it could ensure that all schools have the resources to provide these courses. There was also a great deal of discussion in groups about if A-G should be the measure for determining if a student is eligible for college.
  • Expand capacity. A close second in priority in the discussion about access was the idea of expanding the historical enrollment targets for UC and CSU, though interest may have been greater in building campuses in the region so that students didn’t have to travel so far to enroll in these institutions.
  • Leverage technology. While this reform did not rank high under the category of access, it was voted as the fourth most significant reform discussed that day.

COMPLETION

  • Accelerate college readiness. Voted the highest priority reform of the day, and the highest-priority reform under completion, college readiness was seen as a concern by the group. Even more of interest than the idea of quickly moving students through basic skills coursework once in college was of ensuring that students are placed properly into classes and taking a good look at how students are assessed in the first place.
  • Focus on equity. This ranked second among completion reforms, but much lower than accelerating college readiness. One reason for this may be that this reform was presented as a focus on racial and ethnic equity, but in this region, participants felt that a focus on equity in terms of socio-economic status and first-generation college student would be more relevant.

ACCOUNTABILITY

  • Empower regions. In this region more than any other that had been previously visited, the idea of having a regional approach to higher education opportunity resonated. In a region so different from much of California, there is a sense of isolation and a lack of political power that is felt. This was the top reform under accountability and the third highest reform of the day.

AFFORDABILITY

  • Improve financial aid access. The North State has a tremendous resource in our partner, College OPTIONS, which has been working to improve the FAFSA completion rate of high school graduates and ultimately get it to 100% of all high school graduates. The region sees this as a key way to inform students of their financial aid options and ensure that they take advantage of the resources at their disposal.

Thank you to College OPTIONS for their partnership in this listening tour stop and to all of our enthusiastic participants that day! Next stop: Sacramento!