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

On July 17th, the Campaign held a listening tour stop in our state’s capital, Sacramento. In an area rich with policy experts wearing their statewide lenses, we worked to ensure that regional voices were also represented during this discussion. Listening tour attendees represented higher education (public and private), state agencies, advocacy organizations, business, and research interests.

The discussion began with a review of the region’s performance in six key college measures (see the Sacramento-Tahoe profile) before moving to 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 Sacramento 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 & expand capacity. There was a nearly identical level of priority among participants in favoring the focus on access through A-G completion and expanding capacity at our public universities. Yet the discussion also highlighted concerns about the cost and political feasibility of expanding capacity, and musings around still having a “university eligible” gap since eligibility does not hang on A-G completion alone. Interestingly, none of the top four overall reforms were in the access category.

COMPLETION

  • Focus on racial equity & accelerate college readiness. The top two bold reforms voted on during the day fell under the completion category, with both a focus on equity and accelerating college readiness in a tie for highest level of priority in this category. Not necessarily unrelated priorities, the discussion centered around questions that asked if it would be better to set a target for addressing equity first, which would then by followed by strategies to reach the target, or if the work being done around basic skills education and college readiness already a successful strategy that takes us where we want to go in relation to equitable outcomes.

ACCOUNTABILITY

  • Empower regions. Participants were familiar with some regional models in the state that were good examples of collaboration between segments and sectors that would be worth considering. They also felt strongly that it should not be an either/or decision between state and regional governance and coordination; both are important. This was the top reform under accountability and the fourth priority among all of the reforms discussed that day.
  • Fund for enrollment and completion. Participants were also interested in the idea of funding our higher education institutions for measures of completion, as well as for enrollment. Some felt that without the political will to create another coordinating body or office that would be trusted and effective, changing the way colleges and universities are funded would be a way of having confidence in our public investment in higher education.

AFFORDABILITY

  • Improve financial aid access. This reform was the greatest area of alignment between small group discussions and individuals, and was the third highest priority among all reforms discussed. Participants felt that, though they may favor the idea of increasing financial aid for community college students, a first step to getting more dollars to students is making sure that they are aware of the financial aid opportunities available to them, irrespective of the amount awarded to them.

Thank you to MALDEF for their partnership in this listening tour stop and to all of our enthusiastic participants that day!