Pick an issue, any issue, and you’ll hear from the well-meaning throngs that theirs is a top priority for California’s long-term success.

Opinion

Eloy Ortiz Oakley
Special to CALmatters

Higher education is legend and compass when it comes to plotting a route on California’s roadmap to a stronger future and the preservation of democratic institutions.

But the multitude of issues and solutions won’t bring about real, lasting change without addressing the common denominator that could make or break the Golden State: higher education.

It’s almost a prerequisite for a viable future.

Higher education is legend and compass when it comes to plotting a route on California’s roadmap to a stronger future and the preservation of democratic institutions.

That’s why Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, Superintendent Tony Thurmond, leaders of the University of California, California State University System, the California Community College System, and private institutions must come together to craft and implement the big ideas today for the state’s viability tomorrow.

The California Community College System must be an important part of this discussion.

Addressing the State’s Pressing Challenges

We are uniquely positioned to help provide big solutions addressing the state’s pressing challenges with innovative approaches to improving access, equity and affordability for college.

Among these initiatives:

  • The California College Promise provides free tuition and a commitment to align with K-12 and university partners
  • Working to ensure Cal Grants are properly funded so the neediest among us are not left behind.
  • Forging ahead with an online college to open doors for working adults to attend college.
  • Supporting a cultural shift across the state and nation that views college not as an elite pathway for the haves but an opportunity for learning, skill development and economic mobility for all.

The entire education system and especially post-secondary education is charged with the monumental task of producing educated people who are informed, up to date, trained and enthusiastic about being part of the thriving whole. To be successful, a long-term view incorporating visionary, inclusive initiatives to improve higher education in California is required.

In other words, we must think big and be unapologetically bold.

California has significant challenges in workforce readiness, equity and poverty. But we start our next four-year chapter with a new governor, new education leaders and opportunities to improve education across the board and put in place ways to open the doors to higher education for all.

Data supporting the need to start this chapter with bold moves to improve California higher education is on the brink of being overwhelming. Not only is the country facing a skilled workforce shortage, but the future job market will require that more than 65 percent of workers possess a college degree or credential by 2020.

Accommodating College-Ready High Schoolers

Such daunting realities clearly demand solutions that accommodate college-ready high schoolers, returning veterans and workers who need enhanced skills for economic mobility.

Keeping ahead of poverty is yet another proof point in the case for improving higher education in California, the state with 7.4 million people living in poverty.

Keeping ahead of poverty is yet another proof point in the case for improving higher education in California, the state with 7.4 million people living in poverty.

The California Poverty Measure, a 2016 joint research product of the Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, finds that education is protective. The poverty rate among families with at least one college graduate is 8.6 percent. Among families where no adult has a high school degree, the poverty rate is 48 percent.

PPIC followed up with another report in December that found workers with a bachelor’s degree earn more than two times the annual income of a worker with only a high school diploma, or $80,000 compared to $35,000.  The report stressed the need to expand capacity within public and private institutions for California to serve the population and meet the demand for higher education.

All of these factors make it clear higher education is the lynchpin to our future. Now, as we enter a new era of leadership, we have a chance to be bold with solutions to ensure that the future is bright for Californians and the state economy alike.

Eloy Ortiz Oakley is chancellor of the California Community Colleges and a regent of the University of California regent, eoakley@cccco.edu. He wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

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