Blog Archives - The Campaign for College Opportunity

Closing California’s Degree Gaps Requires Keeping College Affordable

California annually fails to serve more than 300,000 students seeking financial aid, despite meeting academic standards and demonstrating financial need

For far too long, California has been staring down an impending economic reality: our economy will have more vacant positions than workers with the educational qualifications needed to take them on. Due to employers’ increasing demand for educated talent and the retirements of highly-educated baby boomers, the most recent analysis by the Campaign for College Opportunity found that California will fall short by 1.65 million college degrees or credentials to meet its workforce demands in 2030.

The troubling reality is that while business and the economy continue to evolve, often near breakneck speeds in California, our educational systems and policies struggle to keep pace. California’s approach to investing in its human capital, our students, is in especially dire need of an update.

Smarter targeting of public resources is necessary to close the college degree gap, not just a minor contributing factor to student success or “feel good” use of public dollars. For many California families, covering all the costs of their children’s college dreams would be virtually impossible without the investments made available for talented students with financial need. Consider this: More than half of Latinx families of four, and nearly as high a share of American Indian and Black families earn less than $49,000 annually. It is difficult enough to care for a family with such limited financial resources, but saving for college and the growing costs that go beyond the sticker price of tuition becomes untenable.

Those non-tuition costs are growing quickly. The total ­everything students must afford to be successful in college, not only tuition but also books, living expenses, and transportation. In just the past 15 years, the total cost of attendance has increased by more than 200 percent at each of the public higher education systems in California. Read More

To All the Students Who Earned Their Spot in College

For all of us who were first in our families to go to college.

Who worked fast food or retail to make as much extra cash as possible.

Who had to convince our worried immigrant parents to turn over their taxes so we could fill out FAFSA and then shock them with the news that there was free money for college.

For all of us who got that SAT fee waiver and didn’t even know you could prep and be tutored for a test that had questions about yachts.

For those of us who scrambled to get more fee waivers for our college applications because otherwise you were definitely NOT applying to that school.

To those of us who wrote our own essays and didn’t even know anyone that might be able to review it, much less help us rewrite it.

And to those of us who had to convince our parents that it was okay and important to move into the college dorm.

To those of us who knew we couldn’t demand our parents do more than sacrifice everything they already had.

To those of us who figured out how to pass our classes and graduate from college after feeling lost and often like an impostor who won the lottery. Read More

Reflections from the Dream Success Center

Jason highlighted key moments in his life—his few memories of South Korea, his journey to the United States, earning admission to college, etc., and now, he sat in my office coping with a question neither I, nor most other staff or faculty at CSU Long Beach would ever have to face for ourselves.

What does it mean to be undocumented?

Brought to California as a child, Jason struggled with the daunting reality of a soon-to-be expired visa. Technically, as he explained, he would have to return to South Korea, but he wanted to remain in California, where he had spent most of his life. His story is but one example of the approximately 75,000 undocumented higher education students who are caught within, between, and outside policies that significantly shape the lived experiences of college students.

Not all students’ stories are the same. This was a key takeaway of my time serving as Coordinator of the Dream Success Center at CSU Long Beach. The center served as a one-stop shop for all matters pertaining to undocumented students on campus: in-state tuition (AB 540), state financial aid (California Dream Act), studying abroad as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, scholarship information, healthcare resources, referrals to non-profit organizations for legal advice, and much more. While all students were in one way or another significantly impacted by their legal status (or lack of), it is undeniable that their experiences were not the same. Some faced significantly more challenges.

As a professional, it can be quite frustrating to want to help students but find it impossible to do so. For example, students that came to the United States at an older age than their fellow Dreamers may not meet entry requirements for DACA and may be ineligible for in-state tuition and state financial aid because they did not accumulate enough time enrolled in a California high school. Despite my best efforts, there is almost nothing I can do to help these students pay thousands and thousands of dollars for college when they are ineligible for aid. It was not uncommon for these students to take several semesters off from school to save for tuition and fees, and to spend well over four years in college as a result. Read More

Here’s What California Can Do to Support Undocumented Students

Undocumented students have encountered unique challenges in pursuing higher education for years. These difficulties have been heightened by uncertainty in federal immigration policy and the stress it puts on students and families. Below are the stories of several brave students who are fighting to break through barriers due to their undocumented status, and even trying to keep doors open for other undocumented students walking in their footsteps. These stories not only demonstrate the tenacity, persistence, and strength of these individual Dreamers, but also highlight the common threats to their success that California policymakers and educators can address to ensure that every student has an opportunity to pursue their college dreams.

This August, the California legislature sent two bills advancing support for undocumented students, Assembly Bills 1895 (Calderon) and 2477 (Rubio), to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature. AB 1895 would ensure that undocumented students have access to income-based repayment for the Dream Loans offered to them, which would provide them with the same affordable means of repayment that their peers can access for federal student loans. AB 2477 would guarantee that undocumented students at the California State University have access to “Dreamer Resource Liaisons” knowledgeable about the programs and services available to them.

Read the student stories below and click here to sign on to our petition calling on Governor Brown to stand with undocumented students by signing AB 1895 and AB 2477.

Rene Amel Peralta, UC Irvine Alumni

“My sister and I were just two kids, born into poverty, born into a broken home. We were born to fail. But we risked everything to change our lives. At the age of 6, I had already began working my first full-time job in Mexico just to survive. By the time I was 13, my sister and I decided to abandon our only parent to cross the border into the U.S. to escape the poverty and violence we were exposed to every day. Unfortunately, our hardships would not cease to exist. Without papers, schooling or the ability to speak English, we worked full time in whatever jobs we could find in the underground economy — dry cleaning, construction, food service, domestic help — working for below minimum wage and often in poor conditions.

At 17, in a last-ditch effort to improve our lives, we contacted a family friend in California, Brian Roge Fonteyn. Brian took us in, invested in our future by contributing his own money so my sister and I could attend classes at Mt. San Antonio community college in Walnut. For both my sister and I, this was our first experience with formal schooling. I enrolled in the most remedial courses I could find. It would take 6 years, a lot of energy and determination to achieve excellent grades in my schoolwork and earn two associate degrees in math and science. Read More

What the Expanded ‘Degree with a Guarantee’ Program Means for Students – and All Californians

“This pathway can and will make the difference for thousands of students pursuing their college and career dreams.”

By Kristen Soares, President AICCU

Every student deserves the opportunity to attend a college or university that best meets their educational goals and unique learning needs. That’s why the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU) has partnered with the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office to open up a guaranteed transfer pathway for community college students to complete their degree at an independent California institution.

I want to thank Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley and his team for their collaboration and leadership over the course of the year to expand the Associate Degree for Transfer pathway to our private institutions. This pathway can and will make the difference for thousands of students pursuing their college and career dreams.
Read More

If Not Now, When? The Time for a Student-Centered Funding Formula is Now

The Governor’s plan to transform the current community college funding model to a student-centered formula, for the first time in contemporary history of California’s community colleges, recognizes a reality West Hills has endured for nearly 86 years: rural districts serving large populations of disadvantaged students require more resources to help them to the completion finish line. At our rural Central Valley colleges in Coalinga, Lemoore, and Firebaugh, we take 100% of everybody in our 3,500 square mile district, where nearly 80% of our population lives at or below the poverty line, unemployment is high, and skills attainment is low.

A student-centered funding formula is the long overdue solution for rural districts that incur considerably more expenses to assist our most vulnerable students in reaching the finish line. The current funding formula is based largely on the number of full-time equivalent students enrolled – with no explicit fiscal incentives for colleges to support low-income populations and support their success. As an example, the regional Strong Workforce program was designed to do ‘more and better Career and Technical Education (CTE)’. Our share, based on enrollment, was up to five times less than neighboring urban districts. How can I grow CTE programs when I receive one-fifth the allocation provided to large colleges? How am I to respond to identified needs of business and industry with specialized, high-cost workforce training programs, let alone drive regional economies to enhance rural economic development initiatives? Why do we value selectivity over social mobility?

Although our colleges have done admirable work providing broad access, too few students who enter the system ultimately achieve their educational goals. Half of students fail to complete a certificate or degree after six years, with the rates for those historically underrepresented in higher education – especially low-income students and students of color – even more concerning and with gaps across regions of the state. The Central Valley is the epicenter of that conversation, which is very frustrating for our district because we have unwavering confidence that our students can achieve their goals if ample resources and services are in place to ensure that outcome. And, it’s not that our disadvantaged students cannot achieve their educational attainment goal; I know our students can if we recognize to do so requires more resources than realized with current funding models. I have often said the enrollment-based funding formula is why poor communities stay poor.

Read More

Students Say California’s Legislature Should #InvestinSuccess

Students enroll in college with a belief that they will one day cross the graduation stage. How we fund community colleges should reflect the reality that students want more than access to campuses — they want to transfer, earn a certificate or degree, and leave college prepared to succeed in their careers. Yet too many students fail to complete college due to barriers including a broken remedial education system, a transfer maze, and a lack of guidance that significantly increases the time to a degree.

Governor Brown’s 2018-19 Budget realizes the urgency to ensure better student outcomes by proposing an ambitious new funding formula for California Community Colleges that encourages colleges to make progress and improve student outcomes. The proposal is historic in that it puts student success on par with student access.

Students are speaking up in support! Read the stories below to see what students are saying about the Governor’s proposal.

Alaye Sanders, Cosumnes River College

“Hi, my name is Alaye Sanders and I am currently in my second year at Cosumnes River College. So far, I regret to say I’ve experienced a myriad of structural obstacles. I was confused about how difficult it was to navigate and find resources to help me.  I was alarmed at how confused the counselors were when it came to pointing me in the right direction. The CRC mission statement clearly states, “CRC promotes teaching and learning excellence through diverse educational opportunities, varied instructional and effective student services.” But how effective is a toolbox that none can find?

This experience was different from high school, I was able to graduate from Valley High School with the help of a college prep program called “Improve Your Tomorrow” (IYT), which specifically targets students who look like me – young black and brown men. A  goal clearly detailed in their mission statement, we proudly incorporated into our “IYT Creed” that we chanted during every session. It’s thanks to programs like IYT that enable students like me to succeed.

This is why I support a funding formula that is student focused and encourages institutions to support student sustainability and improvement. While the subcommittee decision has already been made, I believe it’s important for the student’s voices to be heard.

Thank you for hearing me out.”

Read More

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Higher Education Champion Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin

 “When we look at the state legislature we have less than 24% women. That number is the lowest level it has been in the past decade – which is rather appalling for a progressive state like California.”

As the daughter of immigrants and the first in her family to attend college, Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin is no stranger to adversity.  This former all-American swimmer has learned to navigate rough waters with determination, poise, and a tenacity that has earned her admiration in the traditionally male-dominated spheres that she has spent a lifetime daring to compete in.

She attributes much of her success to her work ethic, positive attitude, and competitive spirit.  In high school, Irwin learned that she had an aptitude for math but stumbled her senior year after enrolling in a challenging calculus class.  While she contemplated quitting, her father insisted that she continue, recognizing that her hard work would validate the many sacrifices her family made in order to support their daughter in pursuing her college dreams.  Irwin would go on to attend and graduate from the University of California, San Diego with a Bachelor of Science in systems engineering.

After college, Irwin jumped at the opportunity to work as an engineer at John’s Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab and Teledyne Systems.  Of more than 30 engineers in her department, only two were women.  Undeterred, Irwin embraced the chance to put her intellect to good use while defying the “old boys club” mentality that had previously existed. She continued infiltrating male-dominated fields throughout her career as she entered politics. Read More

Why Thousands of Eligible Students Fail to Complete Their FAFSA


Each February, thousands of students across California will learn about obscure sounding tax terminology. Too often, whether a student can piece together enough knowhow about the tax code will determine if they learn about the help available to pay for college.

“What’s our adjusted gross income?”

“How do you count how many people are in our ‘household’?”

These are just two questions that parents and adults field from students as they start their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is the application required to determine eligibility for most financial aid programs that help cover college costs, ranging from student loans to Cal Grants, the state program in California that awards over $2 billion annually to help students afford college. Students in California must complete their entire FAFSA, running more than 100 questions long, before the Cal Grant deadline (March 2) to claim any state-based assistance for which they are eligible. Unfortunately, data on who does not complete the FAFSA depicts a grim reality: many of the students that stand to most benefit from college leave their money on the table, potentially incurring greater costs themselves or even worse –  not enrolling in college altogether due to the costs they face.

In 2016, The Campaign for College Opportunity set out to quantify the amount of Pell Grant funds left unused by California students, funds that would have otherwise helped low-income students pay for college. The results were staggering. We found that in 2014, more than 144,000 California high school graduates failed to complete a FAFSA, resulting in over $340 million going unclaimed and unused by eligible students. These are not funds that need to be won in the never-ending Congressional budget debates. These dollars are already allocated towards financial aid, but we have yet to make it enough of a priority to make sure they get to their end users – students. Read More

And the Higher Education Grammy Goes to…

Champions SealSecretary of State Alex Padilla called the Campaign for College Opportunity’s Champions of Higher Education award “the equivalent of a Grammy, the equivalent of an Oscar, and maybe even the equivalent of a World Series ring all rolled into one.”

While the Recording Academy hands out Grammys for Best New Artist, Album of the Year and Song of the Year, we awarded Champions of Higher Education awards for Excellence in Transfer, our higher education version of the Grammys, as Secretary Padilla calls it.

Specifically, these “Grammys” are awarded to California Community Colleges and California State Universities (CSU) that have supported students through the Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT), a streamlined transfer pathway that offers guaranteed admission with junior standing at the CSU. The goal of the Associate Degree for Transfer pathway is to increase the number of students transferring to 4-year universities by streamlining the transfer process. Our research shows that 48% of students with an ADT graduate from the California State University within two years with their bachelor’s degree compared to only 27% of traditional transfer students. And, since its inception in 2010, more than 69,000 students have earned an Associate Degree for Transfer.

The California Community Colleges and California State Universities that received the awards produced the largest number of students earning Associate Degrees for Transfer and have demonstrated significant growth in students earning the degree year over year.

Here are the California Community College Grammy categories and winners: Read More