California Competes Talks Higher Education and Workforce on “Nation State of Play” Podcast

by California Competes


Topics: Bachelor's Degrees, Community Colleges, Degree Attainment, Employment, Enrollment, Four-Year Colleges, Sub-Baccalaureate Degrees, State Coordination, Ed Equity, Adults, COVID-19, Workforce


Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez joined Neptune Ops Partner and Co-Founder Bryan Miller on his podcast, “Nation State of Play,” to discuss how higher education and workforce in California can emerge from COVID-19 stronger and more equitable than before. Their conversation covered California Competes’s research priorities, the importance of consistent statewide policymaking and coordination, credit for prior learning, and more. Listen to the full episode here, or read on.

Declaring, “Higher ed is both a vaccine and an antidote for economic stagnation—for individuals and the state,” Dr. Jez opened the interview with a detailed overview of what California Competes does. She explained the organization’s structure and how she works with the its highly-acclaimed Leadership Council and team to determine policy and research priorities, as well as the ever-growing list of partners and allies who help advance our mission. The practical implications of our research on higher education and workforce alignment remained at the center of Dr. Jez’s message, and she noted, “If you care about the economy, you have to care about the people who fuel the economy—and vice versa.”

If you care about the economy, you have to care about the people who fuel the economy—and vice versa.

-Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez

Miller then turned the conversation toward California’s complicated higher education system, inquiring, “Education in this state is such a confusing issue, with so many different entities that are involved in it. Who really makes the policies and the goals you’re talking about?” Dr. Jez explained the different public segments and how each is governed, as well as the roles of the governor and state legislature in related funding and policymaking.

As policy priorities—both at California Competes and in state government—have shifted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related socio-economic crises, Dr. Jez dove into how recent research has shown ways for an invigorated higher education sector to help California get its state and regional economies back on track. The organization’s recent pivot toward better aligning higher education processes, policies, and outputs with workforce needs has proven especially salient on this front.

As Dr. Jez noted, “One thing we keep hearing over and over is the need for higher ed to be more responsive to workforce needs…What we need to do is build connections between higher ed institutions and employers, and then let them determine what’s actually the best way to execute and implement a connection that allows for graduates to get good jobs—frankly, that’s the goal.”

One thing we keep hearing over and over is the need for higher ed to be more responsive to workforce needs.

-Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez

A lot of partnerships of this nature already exist throughout the state, but California Competes seeks to ensure that the number of these grows—along with their quality. Including employers early on in program and policy development, Dr. Jez explained, is a particularly important way to ensure such partnerships fulfill their potential. Having an employer engaged throughout the program—teaching, lecturing, advising, providing internships—is the best way to build excitement about the graduates and, ideally, their hiring.

In the past, career development has not been at the core of higher education, but that’s changing, Dr. Jez said, and state policy needs to support the frameworks that allow local institutions to develop what their communities and their students need.

She also told Miller policies like credit for prior learning should be expanded, explaining how consistent segment-wide and statewide policies would better support adult students with substantial on-the-job or other relevant experience in and out of the classroom. She cited her own family history, noting that her father’s lengthy military career could not count toward a degree at his local community college, despite his ample coursework and certifications.

Affordability and access are issues everywhere, and we need a way to address this across the systems.

-Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez

“The mantra of 2020 is ‘now more than ever,’” Dr. Jez concluded. “Affordability and access are issues everywhere, and we need a way to address this across the systems.” Governor Gavin Newsom’s Council for Post-Secondary Education is a great first step, but she hopes to see a fully independent agency with its own staff in the future. “All these things just have rippling effects.”

Listen to the full interview here.