The year was 2002. California was dealing with the aftermath of an energy crisis and dot-com bust that created budget constraints and new challenges to its higher education system. California’s public colleges and universities were seeing unprecedented demand given the growing young adult population, and the Governor’s budget did not include enough money to finance higher education in a way that was consistent with the Master Plan for Higher Education, a pillar of California’s public education infrastructure that guarantees a spot for all eligible California students at one of its public institutions of higher education. In response, retired higher education leaders, David Wolf and Steve Weiner, both of whom credited the Master Plan for Higher Education with opening the doors to educational opportunity in their own lives, sounded the alarm after meeting with leaders across the state who confirmed that colleges did not have the resources to provide the space to serve the influx of prospective students, and things were only expected to get worse.
David and Steveunderstood thata new vision was needed to keep the dream of a college opportunity available to Californians. And so was born the idea for a broad-based organization that would bring together a coalition representing business, labor, civil rights, religious groups and civic organizations all working together to ensure that our state would keep the promise of college opportunity to California’s next generation of students.
This coalition would focus on three core beliefs: 1) California needs to invest more money into public higher education; 2) students and families need to be willing to spend more to finance their own education; and, 3) colleges and universities have to operate in a more efficient way with state resources.
To bring this movement to life, David and Steve recruited organizational co-founders, starting with Antonia Hernandez, then-President of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), given the significance of California’s growing Latino population. With Antonia on board, David and Steve next lined up support from Bill Hauck, then-President of the California Business Roundtable (CBRT), and David Viar, who led the Community College League of California (CCLC), bringing new energy to the coalition and rounding out its broad-base of support. With the backing of prominent California and national foundations in 2003, the organization became known as The Campaign for College Opportunity with a mission to ensure that all eligible and motivated students in California have an opportunity to go to college and succeed. The Campaign remains committed to keeping the State of California from breaking its promise of college opportunity to its next generation of young people in order to ensure a strong state for all of us.
The Beginning of Change
Campaign for College Opportunity co-founders David Wolf and Steve Weiner embark on a statewide college leader listening tour to assess the state of higher education in California and publish Keeping the Promise, highlighting their findings.
The Campaign for College Opportunity is Incorporated
Civil rights, business, education, and community leaders from the California Business Roundtable, Community College League of California, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) come together to found the Campaign for College Opportunity.
In November, the Campaign is officially incorporated with funding support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Community College League of California, the Ford Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
The Work Begins
The Campaign hires its first Executive Director, Abdi Soltani, and Associate Director, Michele Siqueiros, and opens offices in Oakland and Los Angeles.
Our founding board sets out a policy agenda focused on:
Expanding college access – focusing on meeting capacity as budget cuts were very much limiting the number of students served.
Efficiency and innovation – focusing on what colleges can do to help serve more students and increase college completion.
Tuition policy – recommending tuition and fee policy that provides both families and colleges with a predictable and stable expectation of costs and revenue
Laying the Groundwork
The Campaign launches a statewide listening tour visiting 66 cities to build relationships with leaders across the state and discuss the challenges facing higher education. Following the tour, we publish Listen Up, a summary of our key findings.
We release our first research publication, Return on Investment, highlighting that for every $1 California invests in higher education it receives more than $3 in ROI.
Moving at Full Speed
We launch the “Save Me a Spot in College” (SPOT) Scholarship Contest and receive 8,000 entries. Through SPOT, the Campaign engages students who would be turned away from college if California breaks its promise of college opportunity.
We also publish Keeping California’s Edge, an analysis of the relationship between higher education and the economic value created in the California economy.
We sponsor AB 668 (Portantino), the California Community College Financial Aid Opportunity Act, which ensures that California Community College students have the opportunity to apply for financial aid. It is passed and signed into law.
We host “Know How to Go” college knowledge events to support families and students in understanding their options for preparing for and getting aid for college.
An Independent Voice for Students
We sponsor SB 890 (Scott), the Early Commitment to College bill, to assure students who sign a pledge to work hard, stay in school, and take the steps they need to make it to college, have a spot in college and financial aid available when they get there. It is passed and signed into law.
We open our Sacramento office, lead by our now-Executive Vice President Jessie Ryan, to solidify a constant presence in the legislature and truly deepen policy work.
The Great Recession
We establish new policy priorities that center on student outcomes.
We release our first budget statement, calling on the Governor to prioritize limited resources to minimize the impact of deep budget cuts to access, prioritize student outcomes, and hold colleges accountable for putting students first.
We sponsor AB 440 (Beall), the College Student Success Act, in a first attempt to reform the broken community college to California State University transfer process. It fails in the Senate Education committee.
We co-sponsor and champion SB 1440 (Padilla), the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, a historic transfer reform package legislation creating the Associate Degree for Transfer, ensuring students earn a “degree with a guarantee” to the California State University. It is passed and signed into law.
We publish Divided We Fail, highlighting the incredibly low rates of completion for community college students by race.
We launch the “One Million More” campaign to raise awareness of the state’s looming workforce shortage.
From Access Only to Success
We publish thirteen Divided We Fail regional profiles and a gender profile, and host nine regional roundtables with over 250 leaders to discuss the findings. Forty-two organizations join us in calling for improved student success at our community colleges.
Los Angeles Unified School District launches “Early Commitment to College” in 65 schools with the goal of having all incoming 8th graders sign our Save Me a Spot in College pledge.
Student Success Front and Center
We publish California’s Economic Payoff, documenting the economic return of $4.50 to the state of California for every $1 it invests in public higher education.
We publish Missing the Mark, analyzing transfer reform implementation efforts and draws attention to uneven progress across the state.
We deepen our attention on college affordability issues due to the rise in college costs and student debt.
We publish Working Hard, Left Behind, which sheds light on California’s working poor families and the opportunities, or lack thereof, that exist in the state to help move them out of poverty through higher education.
We co-sponsor SB 440 (Padilla), the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, follow-up legislation to strengthen transfer reform. It is passed and signed into law.
10 Years of Increasing College Graduates to Strengthen California
We contribute to major victories in the state budget that allocate more funding to the UC and CSU with an explicit focus on increasing access and improving transfer and time to degree. We also contribute to a $60 million allocation to innovative efforts at community colleges that will help improve basic skills courses.
The UC launches 11 transfer pathways aligned with the Associate Degree for Transfer with a promise for ten more in the coming year.
We sponsor AB 770 (Irwin), Remedial Education Redesign, which established the Basic Skills and Outcomes Transformation Program, a program that incentivizes colleges and provides funding to improve the progression rate of students needing basic skills instruction into college-level courses. It is passed and signed into law.
A Leading Voice in Higher Education
We contribute to major victories in the state budget that allocate more funding for community colleges and the UC that include a $200 million allocation focused on a college readiness pipeline and $30 million to improve basic skills courses.
We rally coalition partners to join us in Washington, D.C. along with 22 of our student ambassadors to advocate for year-round Pell Grants and for simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
We sponsor AB 705 (Irwin), Ensuring Assessment Equity at Community Colleges. The legislation ensures more students have access to college-level courses when they start community college by requiring colleges to use high school transcripts as a factor in determining course placement, substantially increasing students’ chances of completing a degree, certificate or transfer.
We host a discussion with EdSource journalist Larry Gordon, who moderates a conversation between President Michele Siqueiros and former U.S. Secretary of Education and incoming President & CEO of The Education Trust, John King.
We convene groups to talk about ways to support and provide resources for DACA and undocumented students, participated in legislative news conferences calling on Congress to pass the DREAM Act, and pressed the Trump Administration to uphold DACA.
Making Higher Education A Priority for Gubernatorial Candidates
We launch “Our California,” a campaign calling upon our Governor to create a bold new vision for higher education that includes a 60% attainment goal for California adults by 2030.
We ensure higher education was a central topic in the 2018 election by hosting townhalls and forums on higher education with the leading candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor, including current Governor and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and Eleni Kounalakis.
We launch our Take a Lunch Break series to connect newly appointed and elected higher education leaders with higher education and community advocates.
Accompanying our annual Champions of Higher Education celebration, we unveil the inaugural Equity Champion for Excellence in Transfer award, honoring community colleges and CSU campuses excelling in supporting Black and Latinx students through the Associate Degree for Transfer.
We advocate for historic legislation AB 928 and AB 1111, signed into law by the Governor, to fix the broken transfer process from California’s community colleges to our state’s public universities and adopt a common course numbering system to eliminate duplicative and confusing course numbering at community colleges.
We proudly support critical state budget investments to expand FAFSA and California DREAM Act application completion and support college access for formerly and currently incarcerated students.
We champion the establishment of a dual-admissions program to provide eligible first-time freshman applicants to the UC and CSU an opportunity for guaranteed admission to a campus of choice upon completion of an Associate Degree for Transfer.
Strengthening Access and Student Pathways
The Cal Grant Equity Framework, which expands financial aid to over 150,000 more students, including more women, Black, and Latinx students, is included into the 2022-23 state budget pending funding availability in 2024-25 after committed advocacy from students and higher education partners.
Joined by Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis and Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, we host our inaugural Excellence in Placement award ceremony, honoring California Community Colleges that are excelling in equitable placement through critical legislation AB 705.
Landmark legislation AB 1705, which we co-sponsored, is signed into law, removing barriers for students to access and succeed in transfer-level English and math coursework.
We open our Washington D.C. Office to begin exploring national opportunities to support California students and strengthen transfer across the nation.