California needs a new vision for higher education

Graduates await their diplomas in graduation ceremonies at UCLA. (Photo: Joseph Sohm)

California has always captured the imagination of visionaries and innovators. Historically, our state leaders have backed up big ideas with concrete plans and sound investments, which has paid dividends for California.

For example, California’s Master Plan for Higher Education encompassed a bold vision and plan for ensuring that every Californian had equal access to a high-quality college-level education. It set in motion a legacy for California that produced a robust and innovative workforce and catapulted us into the fifth largest economy of the world.

But that was 50 years ago.

Now, the changing economy and workforce demands, combined with our population growth and growing diversity, are challenging a higher education system to meet a new reality.

We need 60 percent of California’s adults to have a college credential by 2030 in order to maintain our economic standing.

If California cannot keep up with growing workforce demands, we will not be able to compete on a national and global scale.

It’s important to recognize that while workforce demands are changing, so is the workforce itself. In California half of our children are Latino. Closing educational attainment gaps is essential to equipping all of our students with the right tools to succeed in the labor force of today and tomorrow.

California must get back on track to prepare our future workforce and meet economic demands. We must begin with a vision. That is why we joined the Campaign for College Opportunity in their bold Our California campaign, calling on Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom to set statewide higher education attainment and equity goals, and provide a blueprint for how to get there.

Like the bold tech icons, business leaders, and public servants before him, Newsom will have the leadership opportunity to right our course and prepare California’s next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders.

Newsom can challenge the status quo by setting a college attainment goal for the state and building the infrastructure to implement and track the changes necessary to get there. We need 60 percent of California’s adults to have a college credential by 2030 in order to maintain our economic standing, meet workforce demands and close persistent educational attainment gaps.

One innovative proposal the California Business Roundtable strongly supports is the new student success funding formula for community colleges. Our community colleges serve 70 percent of California’s college students. We must invest in students who need the most support in order for California to meet future workforce demand.

Beyond the funding formula, our economy demands that the governor-elect support real reforms to our higher education system that are working to improve student success. Scaling the Associate Degree for Transfer, continuing the bold movement to transform remedial education at our community colleges and CSU, and implementing guided pathways are game changers and Governor-elect Newsom must be their prime champion.

While ambitious, reimagining and reforming our higher education system is essential to preserving California’s legacy as a world leader in higher education and an economic powerhouse. California’s future workforce is counting on Governor-elect Newsom to think big, and make the commitments that turn big ideas into action.

Editor’s Note: Rob Lapsley is president of the nonprofit California Business Roundtable, which examines the impact of legislation on California’s economic climate and proposes solutions.

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