Putting California back in the lead

This speech was originally given by Thomas Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF on August 16, 2014 at our 10 Year Anniversary Celebration.

Thank you Carlos and thank you all for being here tonight on behalf of the Campaign for College Opportunity. I think you’ve heard from the students, graduates, our founders, from the current leadership of the campaign how critically important the work is that we do. But I get to have the last word.

Even though I never spent a single day in a community college classroom my California education dream began at Pasadena City College. That is because both of my parents, working parents, attended Pasadena Community College when I was a child. They went to school after work in the evening and conveyed to my brother and me how critically important higher education was to achieve in this state and in this nation.

As I grew older, after both of my parents had received their associates degrees, my father when I was 5, my mother when I was 15, as I grew older and became a college senior I learned about the California Master Plan for Higher Education. And I realized and understood why the State of California was the leader in the nation, indeed a leader in the world, with respect to higher education. The Master Plan promised access equitably to students based on how they did in high school. That inspired me.

However, over the years California ceded its leadership, because it became true that in practice the Master Plan was a master plan for access, but not so much of a plan for success. Indeed for too many students, including too many students of color it became clear that the Master Plan was more a master illusion. They would begin college bright-eyed, ready to succeed and find themselves unable to transfer successfully to complete the four-year degree.

We have an opportunity, an opportunity that we’ve already taken critical steps toward achieving to once again put California in the lead. And in – and in reaching out for that opportunity it’s quite clear that the campaign is our leader. You’ve already heard how Steve Weiner and David Wolf together were ready to acknowledge the illusion within the Master Plan and tackle the need to change. And in doing so they engaged in some critical matchmaking.

Yes I see Steve and David as master matchmakers. They began by recognizing that we have to in California focus on both access and success. And in focusing on success we can’t ignore access and that meant to them ensuring that equity was always a core principle of the campaign. And as you’ve already heard they took folks who didn’t always see eye-to-eye on education or other issues and matched them together as leaders in the campaign and as founders in the Campaign for College Opportunity.

Now there are some even today in California who would refer to this as an “unholy alliance.” But I think that they understood that it was instead a matter of taking an estranged cousins and making them recognize their common roots, their common ancestry, making business and civil rights understand that both believe in efficiency and effectiveness on the one hand and equity and opportunity on the other. That is no unholy alliance, that is the core of the campaign’s work for the last ten years.

And finally the campaign’s approach weds two different tools that aren’t often put together, research and advocacy and ensures that the research that is disseminated translates into legislation, translates into policy development. You can see why Steve and David who ultimately were matched with the indomitable Michele Siqueiros and her staff are master matchmakers for education in this state.

Access and success, effectiveness and equity, research and advocacy these are important alliances that will ensure that California is once again a leader in higher education. But as you’ve already heard from Senator Padilla our work is nowhere near done. We see the opportunity to again put California in the lead, but it depends on the continued work of the campaign and the alliances that it continues to build and nurture across the state and across the nation to once again ensure that California can demonstrate that with increasingly diverse student population we can ensure not just access to higher education, but success in higher education, and the ability to translate that into the kind of economic growth and development upon which our state and this nation will thrive.

And that depends on all of us here today. We thank you for your support. We welcome you to continue to work with us by connecting with the campaign, yes supporting us financially, but also ensuring that you are aware the campaign’s latest research, inform your neighbors, inform your legislators, tell the governor, and the leadership in Sacramento how critically important it is that we have another Master Plan that is not an illusion for every student in California; that we arrive at a higher education system that ensures access for all and success for everyone.

As we stand in front of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion we can put together the symphony that will create the music of tomorrow, that will ensure that California is a model not just for the nation, but for the world in ensuring that we have the workforce, the leadership, the innovation that we need and the conductor I am sure with your support will remain the Campaign for College Opportunity.

So as we, as I finish and we listen to more beautiful music tonight let us think of the beautiful music of tomorrow when we put that symphony together. We look forward to conducting and working with you even more in the future at the Campaign for College Opportunity.

Thank you everyone.

About the Author:

Thomas Saenz is the President and General Counsel of MALDEF and Vice Chair of the Campaign for College Opportunity Board of Directors.

To read his complete bio, click here.

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