Supporting College Student Access and Success: Making Sure Hard Work Pays Off

April 20th, 2017
Access College Success
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Audrey Dow
Senior Advisor

By: Audrey Dow, Senior Vice President, The Campaign for College Opportunity

This blog is an excerpt from the panel on “Supporting College Student Access and Success” from the American Educational Research Association conference on January 17, 2017. Our Senior Vice President, Audrey Dow, gave remarks on policy opportunities that could help address college student access and success. Please click the video above to watch the entire remarks.

Good evening.

Thank you A.E.R.A. for having me tonight. It’s wonderful to be here with Dr. Long, Juana, James, and Adolfo.

I’m glad we’re having this conversation on college access and success here in California because in so many ways, California is what the rest of our country will look like in the future.

My remarks today will focus on the policy opportunities we have before us that can help address so many of the challenges laid out in Dr. Long’s lecture.

California’s Master Plan for Higher Education paved the way for our UC, CSU and community college systems which created a workforce that catapulted the state into becoming a world leader and ensured the type of innovation that we’re famous for (Silicon Valley, Silicon Beach, Apple, Disney) keeps the state as one of the largest economies in the world.

It’s the reason I’m sitting here today. My father, immigrated to this country at the age of 10 from Mexico. He’s the grandson and son of panaderos (bakers) but when he turned 18 he didn’t go into the family business, it wasn’t why my grandfather left his country. He came here for better opportunity for his son and somehow knew that education was likely the key. So, in the early 1970’s my dad enrolled in LA Trade Tech College, just down the street from here, which led to him earning a certificate in electrical engineering, an apprenticeship at American Bridge Steel Company, and a career that allowed him to own a home, have quality healthcare, save for retirement, put his two girls through college and have a little fun.

The Master plan was groundbreaking policy for its time, it fit the needs of that moment and served millions of students, including my father, and the state but that moment was over fifty years ago.

Our once model higher education system has fallen into mediocrity in college preparation, completion and affordability. In fact, California is projected to be 2.3 million college educated workers short of economic demand in just eight years. California’s population has more than doubled in size and is more racially diverse and geographically spread out. Today, Latinos represent 40% of California’s population but only 11% of adult Latinos have Bachelor’s degrees. Half of all children are Latino in the state and most will be first-generation college goers– these are demographics that the original master plan never contemplated.

The Campaign for College Opportunity focuses on impacting statewide public policy to improve college going and completion for all students and the state. If we have good, visionary public policy, we create an environment where students can succeed in getting into college and graduating regardless of their parents’ level of education, their zip code, or whether or not they happen to have a strong leader at the helm of their college campus of choice.

The good, vision public policy we need must get beyond the piecemeal approach we’ve become accustomed to. You know what I mean…. When we fund pilot programs, short-term grant programs, create opt-in programs that fund some colleges, help some students, we’re tinkering at the edges of success but never getting to scale. We have boutique programs that serve cohorts of 35 or even 100 students – and they show tremendous success but they’re for 100 students on a campus of 35,000.

How do we get to scale and how can public policy be our friend?

  1. We need strong statewide leadership and a Governor and legislature that will set higher education goals for the state – in access and completion and goals for closing racial gaps. Goals with benchmarks that we review annually. We have to start asking what are the outcomes we need from our colleges and universities to meet the twin imperatives of improving social mobility and meeting economic demand and how do we hold our institutions accountable.
  2. We need policies that force us to rethink the way our colleges and universities serve students. Policies like Guided Pathways which is a fundamental redesign of community colleges that addresses so much of what Dr. Long discussed. Students need structured pathways through remedial education, through transfer and through degree programs and intrusive guidance and supports starting in high school as they transition to college. 3 colleges are piloting guided pathways here in California and another fifteen may be coming online. Just yesterday Governor Brown proposed $150 million in the state budget to seed this work. This is the big thinking and big acting we need.
  3. We need to rethink caps in the UC and CSU. Two years ago, Ruben was a high school senior at Roosevelt HS in Boyle Heights who wants to be an engineer. He had a 3.7 GPA, above average ACT score, sports, community service and leadership experience but was unsure about whether he would have a spot at the UC. We learned that he didn’t get a spot at a single UC and of the 3 CSU’s he applied to, he only got into one. I remember he asked, if so many students like me want to be engineers and the state needs more engineers, why is it so hard for us to get a spot in college? What a great question. We send over 70% of our students right out of high school to our community colleges where only 40% will ever earn an AA, certificate or transfer after six years. When students start their education at four-year university they graduate at higher rates than had they started at a community college so why are still operating under admission caps defined in a 50-year-old Master Plan. Can we rethink our caps on admissions to the UC and CSU to serve more students and meet the needs of today’s economy?
  1. Finally, we need to fully fund our higher education system but we can’t write a blank check. Investments must be directed toward the outcomes the state needs. We fund our community colleges based on enrollment, so the outcome we get is enrollment. But we also seek completers so how do we rethink our funding structures for higher education to get us the outcomes we most need?