Higher Education Poised to be Front and Center in 2019

2018 was a landmark year to elevate the need for meaningful change in California’s higher education system. The collective work of advocates, students, researchers, business groups, institutional innovators, philanthropy, and other policy influencers led to new research that illuminated challenges and pinpointed solutions, new policies to improve student outcomes, and a renewed focus on higher education by candidates for office. As we at California Competes reflect on the important conversations we participated in throughout the year and what they may mean for the future, we are pleased that higher education is poised to be front and center in 2019 as the key mechanism to advance California’s equity, prosperity, and economic growth. Here are our eight key takeaways from 2018:

Californians now recognize higher education as a key issue, and for the right reasons.

1. Equity is inextricably linked to our state’s economy. Higher education is key to addressing both California’s supply of qualified graduates and the demands of its workforce. For California to thrive, our state’s higher education system and workforce must cater to the needs of all potential beneficiaries, including students of color, first-generation students, lower-income students, those from urban and rural areas, and adults returning to college. Read more in commentary in Silicon Valley Business Journal.

2. Higher education is a top-of-mind issue for Californians, and especially for Latino voters. Results from our spring poll—in partnership with Univision’s Political & Advocacy Group—showed that the majority of Latino voters said their vote would be influenced by how the gubernatorial candidates planned to address higher education, and that they believe our next Governor should make college affordability a priority. Read more in John Howard’s article in Capitol Weekly.

3. This election season amplified the role of California’s lieutenant governor as a key influencer in higher education. In September, we hosted a forum featuring California’s candidates for lieutenant governor to elevate this executive role as one that can make considerable progress on higher education issues. As a University of California regent, a trustee of the California State University, and chair of the Commission for Economic Development, the lieutenant governor is well-positioned to deeply influence higher education policy and workforce outcomes at a time when California needs it most. Read more in Felicia Mello’s article in CALMatters.

California has seen a growing consensus that its sectors—from early learning to K-12 to higher education and to the workforce—should be considered as a system, rather than just a collection of parts.

4. Closing California’s looming college credential gap depends on pinpointing and addressing breaks in the education-to-employment pipeline, yet California’s leaders largely act in an information vacuum when it comes to policymaking in this space. The state has a very limited ability to comprehensively diagnose its higher education problems, invest wisely in solutions, and then comprehensively assess the impacts. Without a fully integrated, top-to-bottom data infrastructure—known as a statewide longitudinal data system (SLDS)—and a neutral body to lead and manage it, California’s education leaders lack the evidence-based information they need to best serve students and the economy. Read more in Mikhail Zinshteyn’s article in EdSource.

5. Our state’s success hinges on strengthening relationships between the education and business sectors. To meet the changing needs of state and regional economies, business and higher education leaders must partner to elevate a statewide public agenda for higher education that puts a primacy on innovation and workforce training, an approach that will lead employers and underserved communities to more prosperous outcomes. Read more in commentary in San Francisco Business Times.

Planning for the future needs of our state, including the changing landscape of the workforce and the student population, has emerged as a top priority.

6. Comprehensively solving the college completion crisis requires addressing the nontuition costs of higher education. Rampant rates of food and housing insecurity among college students in our state severely hamper their abilities to complete their degrees and require the state to rethink how it financially supports students in their education goals. Read more in commentary in Capitol Weekly.

7. Looking forward, the state and its higher education system will need to adjust its approach to the changing nature of the workforce students will meet after graduation. Automated labor, the gig economy, and the relationship between companies and their workers are reasons why the state’s next Governor will need to rethink the way we educate students—both young people entering the system and adults returning to it. Read more in Melanie Mason’s series in the Los Angeles Times.

8. In fact, supporting adults back to college is a critical approach to boosting the state’s economy and achieving equity. The four million California adults who began college but never finished offer a unique opportunity for the state to close the looming degree and certificate gap. This population faces limited economic mobility given the state’s increasing need for workers with postsecondary credentials. The state should meet these adults’ motivations to return to college with policies that support them to easily re-enroll and navigate the institution, reduce time-to-degree, and minimize cost. Read more in Larry Gordon’s article in EdSource.

As we launch into a new era of policymaking with incoming Governor Newsom, Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Thurmond, and a new legislature, we are optimistic that 2018’s shift in public dialogue will lead to action in 2019. California Competes looks forward to working with all stakeholders who share an interest in creating a modernized, more equitable higher education system.