July 5, 2017
California needs 1.1 million more workers with bachelor’s degrees by 2030 to keep up with economic demand, PPIC research has found. Three regions will play an especially critical role in addressing this challenge: Los Angeles County, the Inland Empire, and the San Joaquin Valley.
Improving college enrollment and graduation rates in these regions could help close more than half of this projected statewide skills gap, according to a new PPIC report, Meeting California’s Need for College Graduates: A Regional Perspective. It analyzes the challenges ahead and recommends ways to meet them. At a Sacramento event, report coauthor Kevin Cook summarized the findings and a panel of experts described promising initiatives already underway in these regions. Report coauthor Hans Johnson, director of the PPIC Higher Education Center, moderated the panel discussion.
Panelist Benjamin Duran, executive director of the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium, said his group has created a partnership of public and private colleges and universities, as well as community college districts, from Kern through San Joaquin Counties. One of the consortium’s projects involves improving remedial education, which has traditionally consisted of non-transferable classes that delay—and all too often end—students’ college careers. Under the newer approach championed by the consortium, students deemed underprepared for college work are able to enroll in college-level courses right away but also get supplementary support.
The Central Valley consortium is also working to encourage more students—particularly those in the community colleges—to take 15 units per semester or 30 per year so that more of them graduate on time. “When you’re able to go to school full time, the research is showing that you’re far less likely to drop out—you’re going to finish quicker,” Duran said.
Alma Salazar, senior vice president of the Center for Education Excellence and Talent Development at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said, “We do what all great organizations do—we take someone else’s idea and try to make it better.” The result, she said, is the L.A. Compact, modeled after an effort in Boston. It is a collaboration among area organizations, educational institutions, unions, and local government leaders. The focus is on three goals:
- All students graduate from high school;
- All students have access to and are prepared for success in college; and
- All students have access to pathways to sustainable jobs and careers.
Ken O’Donnell, associate vice president of the Student Success Program Integration and Assessment at California State University, Dominguez Hills, talked about his campus’s success in improving its six-year graduation rate from about 30% to 42% in a few years. O’Donnell echoed the PPIC report, which finds that improving success rates for those already in college will have the greatest impact on the statewide skills gap. “You’ve already improved capacity without adding a single additional seat,” he said.
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