This week, I had the pleasure of facilitating the inaugural meeting of a new human capital initiative in Fresno. Hosted by the Central Valley Community Foundation and convened at the Fresno State University campus, the strategy session was a kickoff for a new initiative to get the major education systems in the city of Fresno—early childhood, K-12, and postsecondary — collectively thinking about how to create a four-year college degree pipeline for the greater Fresno region.

The day began with a data overview provided by the Public Policy Institute of California. Among the variety of information presented was the stunning fact that for every 1,000 9th graders entering high school in Fresno County, only about 208 of them earn a bachelor’s degree. While some of these students start at a four-year college and never complete, the majority of these students start at a community college but never transfer to a four-year institution.

How do you solve the pernicious challenge of getting more kids through college, when there is literally not enough space to admit them?

The keys to solving the four-year college conundrum are clear: enrolling a greater number of students at four-year colleges, and working hard to increase community college transfer. But Fresno State, like most of its peer institutions, is an impacted campus, and in the past couple years fewer, not more, students have had access to their home institution.

How do you solve the pernicious challenge of getting more kids through college, when there is literally not enough space to admit them?

Figuring out a solution to institutional capacity is essential if we are to reach our statewide goal of closing the degree attainment gap of 2.4 million by 2025. It’s also critical at the regional level if a collaborative of the willing, like that in Fresno, comes together to achieve their goals. There are no magic bullets to capacity constraints. The solution will likely be in a combination of approaches, including increasing college enrollments, accelerating time to degree through stronger pathways and portable credits from other institutions or work experiences, expanding cohort-based learning to improve retention and completion, and finding a way to expand course-taking options, potentially including online courses.

Some of these ideas are tried and true, while others are met with resistance because we haven’t yet figured out how to do them without sufficient funding. Yet thinking through how to do it right is exactly the task in front of us, because as one participant in Fresno reminded us, "the light bulb didn't come from continuous improvement of candles."