Speaking at a legislative forum hosted by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in Sacramento about overcoming challenges to California’s continued growth and economic prosperity, Linda Collins, founder and executive director of CLP, highlighted the importance of California’s community colleges — and of working to make them equitable.
“Post-secondary education . . . IS workforce development,” Collins said, adding that all students need some education beyond high school in order to attain family-sustaining wages and find continuing opportunities for advancement.
“Potentially, all the ingredients of upward mobility are right there in the community college system,” she said. “The question is, ‘Can we get them to work together?’”
Collins noted that community colleges already educate most of California’s firefighters and public health workers, as well as many in the private sector, and they produce large shares of the students who go on to graduate from the University of California and California State University systems. She pointed out, however, that not all students are thriving in the colleges or achieving their goals; persistent and unacceptable gaps remain by race, gender and socioeconomic status. Colleges are turning to the kinds of systemic reforms needed to interrupt the institutional policies and practices that reflect and replicate the stratification seen in the labor force and the wider society.
Collins noted that equity is an essential goal of the state-funded Guided Pathways redesign work now under way across the state.
The state Assembly forum on Feb. 4 and Feb. 5, called “Rising Tide, A Summit on Economic Security,” addressed homelessness, affordable housing, poverty, and the partnerships needed to support future workers.
“This is probably the time of the most ferment and excitement that I’ve seen in the community colleges,” said Collins, who has worked in the system as an instructor, administrator, and advocate for equity and reform over the last 35 years.
For the first time, she said, there is growing understanding that all elements of California’s education system need to align their efforts to clarify college and career pathways, and that they must do more to support students in reaching their goals.
Education leaders are now moving pathway strategies from the margin to the center of college work in order to more effectively support students in completing certificates, degrees, and transfers. She noted that this work needs to begin earlier, in high schools, and continue into post-secondary education so students understand the full range of choices available to them and can make early progress via strategies such as high quality dual enrollment and well designed college and career pathways.
None of these strategies can succeed without partnerships with businesses and industries, across educational segments, and with social services, Collins said. She also noted the importance of partnerships with adult education as a key entry way for adults to secure needed credentials.
Finally, Collins underscored the urgency of the work for students and communities. The same issues being addressed by the summit – poverty, housing and food insecurity—are stalking community college students across the state. Partnerships are needed not only at the practice level, but also at the policy level, to address these issues. Reforms to financial aid and improving community college funding are key policy issues that are emergent in this year’s legislative season.