California Higher Education Policy Institute for Legislators 2023

January 19, 2023
 – 12:00 PM 
to January 20, 2023 
– 12:30 PM


California Competes hosted its third annual California Higher Education Policy Institute for Legislators on January 19-20, 2023 in Sonoma, CA. This two-day event focused on creating an engaging space for policymakers to explore new strategies on how to move higher education forward in uncertain economic times. Together, we engaged in in-depth discussions and activities to inspire changes for strengthening higher education and the economy, within legislators’ districts as well as across the state.

January 19 Agenda

I. Welcome and Lunch (12:00 – 1:00 p.m.)

Elizabeth Hill, California Competes Leadership Council Chair

Senator John Laird

II. California Higher Education Paradox: High Demand in the Midst of Large Enrollment Declines (1:00 – 1:30 p.m.)

Su Jin Jez, California Competes Executive Director

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated enrollment declines across the state and nation, with underserved students disproportionately withdrawing from the college path. At the same time, there is a high demand for higher education, with over five million Californians, particularly Latinx Californians, seeking to enroll. We explore this paradox and what it means for the state.

III. Panel Discussion: Transforming a Higher Education System Designed for Yesterday’s Student into an Effective and Equitable System for the Students of Today and Tomorrow (1:30 – 2:15 p.m.)

A diverse panel of students will share their motivations for attending college and the challenges they faced in their educational journeys. Students will discuss institutional practices that have helped them and structures that have served as roadblocks to inspire changes that can improve student experiences and outcomes.

IV. Activity: Navigating Higher Education (2:30 – 4:00 p.m.)

Legislators engage in navigating today’s higher education system as if they were a potential student.

Navigating to and through higher education can be challenging, especially for potential students who may not be clear on their education path, first-generation students unfamiliar with higher education structures, or students who are balancing life responsibilities beyond school. To truly understand what is happening in practice, legislators will explore what steps are needed today to make the transition into and through college within their respective districts.

V. Happy Hour (5:00 – 6:00 p.m.)

Toast by former Senator and Assemblymember Jack Scott

VI. Dinner and Fireside Chat on Higher Education Innovation and Workforce Alignment (6:00 – 8:00 p.m.)

Erica Swanson, Head of Community Engagement at Grow with Google
Moderator: Christopher Cabaldon, California Competes Leadership Council

California’s higher education system must be nimble to meet the changing priorities of today’s communities and economies. To accomplish that, there must be better alignment between higher education and the workforce. During the fireside chat, we will engage in a discussion about education-employer partnerships, including a spotlight on Grow with Google’s certificate program, why it was created, and how Google has partnered with various higher education institutions to allow students to receive credit for its programs.


January 20 Agenda

I. Networking Breakfast (8:30 – 9:00 a.m.)
II. Advancing Higher Education with a Looming Recession: A Conversation with Eminent California Finance Experts (9:00 – 10:00 a.m.)

Ana Matosantos, former Cabinet Secretary for Governor Gavin Newsom
Moderator: Lenny Mendonca, California Competes Leadership Council

With a looming global recession, many California higher education entities–including students and their families, colleges, and government agencies–may need to brace themselves for lean budget years. In this session, Ana Matosantos and Lenny Mendonca, will discuss how the state budget impacts higher education. Ms. Matosantos brings a unique perspective to this conversation, as she has served under both Republican and Democratic leaders in times of budget constraint and surplus.

III. Activity: Leveraging Data to Improve Education and Career Outcomes within Your District (10:15 – 11:00 a.m.)

Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin
Su Jin Jez, California Competes Executive Director

Legislators will be provided newly-released county and regional analyses for their districts.

Improving equitable outcomes starts with data. Assemblymember Irwin, the lead policymaker that made the adoption of California’s Cradle-to-Career System a reality and now serves on its Governing Board, will discuss the role data plays in growing opportunity and social impact. To see what equity gaps exists within their own districts, legislators will examine data from California Competes’s updated Postsecondary to Prosperity Dashboard to understand how the lives of their constituents differ dramatically based on their race, ethnicity, gender, income, place of residence, and more.

IV. Panel Discussion: Achieving Impact through Regional Initiatives (11:00 – 11:45 a.m.)

Cassandra Pye, President, Lucas Public Affairs (Sacramento)
Sheila Thornton, President/CEO, OneFuture Coachella Valley (Inland Empire)
Peter Weber, California Competes Leadership Council

Our state’s strength lies in the diversity of its regions. Recently, the state has leaned into regionally-tailored initiatives, including investments in the K-16 Education Collaborative program that brings together K-12, employers, and higher education leaders to boost student success. A panel of leaders engaged in regional efforts will share their experiences and insights on what it takes to build successful regional collaborations that achieve results.

V. Moving Forward: How We Strengthen Higher Education for a Strong Economy (11:45 – 12:00 p.m.)

Su Jin Jez, California Competes Executive Director

VI. Lunch (12:00 – 12:30 p.m.)

Legislators will be provided with box lunches that can be consumed on-site or taken to-go.

Guest Speakers

Kenya Abner

Student, Sacramento State University

Kenya is a wife of 30 years, a mother of 6, and a grandmother of 1. While raising her family and working in both the public and charter school systems, an awareness of social inequalities, inequitable opportunities, and educational disparities sparked a consciousness to raise public awareness for underprivileged and underrepresented children. Her interests in education and child development merged as she returned to pursue a degree in higher education. She holds an Associate in Social Science from American River College and a Bachelor of Arts in Child Development/ Pre-credential from Sacramento State University. She was California Competes Summer Fellow through the Pathways Fellowship program in 2021 and is currently homeschooling her youngest child while obtaining a Master of Arts in Universal Design for eLearning from Sacramento State University.

Keith Curry

President/CEO, Compton College and Compton Community College District

Dr. Keith Curry is the President of the Compton College and CEO of the Compton Community College District. Compton College is the 114th California Community College, achieving initial accreditation status on June 7, 2017. Dr. Curry is responsible for overseeing all departments and functions of Compton College and the District and serves as secretary for the CCCD Board of Trustees. He brings an abundance of energy and innovative ideas to Compton College, along with a wealth of experience as a postsecondary education administrator.

Dr. Curry is an active member of the Foundation for Compton Community College District, the Association of California Community College Administrators, the California Community College Athletic Association, the Statewide Association of Community Colleges (SWACC), the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice Advisory Board, and the President’s Roundtable. He has participated on Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Visiting Teams, most recently for San Quentin University Prison Project.


Jennifer Liberty

Student, Sacramento State University

Jennifer Liberty is currently a student at Sacramento State, majoring in psychology and set to graduate in spring 2023. She has served as a Peer Assisted Study Session peer in the tutoring center at Sierra College for four years. As a member of the tutor center leadership cohort, she created and implemented the mentorship program for oncoming tutors. At Sacramento State, she served as an Instructional Student Assistant and is currently a student researcher for the CaliforniaAttain! research project. She is passionate about creating equity within the adult learner college experience as an adult learner herself.

Ana Matosantos

Former Cabinet Secretary for Governor Gavin Newsom

Ana Matosantos is a former cabinet secretary in the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom. Previously, she was a budget and policy consultant, focusing primarily on issues relating to the state budget, education finance, health care, income inequality, and local government. She served as director of the California Department of Finance in both the Brown and Schwarzenegger administrations, helping the state deal with the impact of the Great Recession. She was Governor Brown’s chief fiscal advisor as the state closed a $27 billion shortfall and transitioned from years of recurring budget deficits to multibillion dollar surpluses.

Kimberly Salazar

Student, UC Berkeley

Kimberly Salazar is a first-generation student parent at UC Berkeley majoring in Sociology. She is motivated to participate in the student panel in hopes of sharing the barriers that CalWORKs student parents face in higher education. The Public Policy Institute of California reported only a small share of CalWORKs community college recipients transferred to a four-year university (5%), and only a handful of universities provide structural supportive services to help navigate both CalWORKs and university requirements. Through research and her lived experience, she would like to share her insights on improving practices to better support student parents.

Erica Swanson

Head of Community Engagement at Grow with Google

Erica Swanson is Head of Community Engagement for Grow with Google, the tech company’s economic initiative that provides Americans with tools and resources to prepare for work, find jobs, and grow their business. Her team partners with +6,000 local organizations to deliver digital skills trainings across all 50 states. Erica’s previous work at Google focused on helping low-income communities cross the digital divide. Before joining Google, Erica worked for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. She earned her B.A. from Central College in Iowa and her M.A. from George Washington University.

Sheila Thornton

President/CEO, OneFuture Coachella Valley

Sheila Thornton is the President/CEO for OneFuture Coachella Valley. She works with key education and business leaders to implement the Coachella Valley Regional Plan for College and Career Success, a five-year strategic plan that lays out regional strategies designed to produce an educated workforce and assure Coachella Valley students are prepared for success in college, career and life. Prior to her current role, Sheila was a health workforce and leadership development consultant providing project management and coalition building expertise to a variety of industry, education, and community organizations. She has assisted organizations with strategic planning, mission advancement, cross-sector partnerships, organizational structure, grant writing and management and program implementation. Prior to launching her consulting practice in 2001, Sheila held the positions of Director of Community Services for a non-profit hospital and Analyst/Project Manager for an economic research and consulting firm.

Cassandra Walker Pye

President, Lucas Public Affairs

Cassandra Walker Pye is president for Lucas Public Affairs (LPA), a Sacramento-based public affairs consultancy. For 37 years, she has enjoyed a successful career in communications, government, politics, and advocacy for corporate interests in global, national, state, and local arenas. In 2014, she launched 3.14 Communications, LLC. Previously, she was senior vice president for APCO Worldwide, a global strategic communications consultancy. In 2003, she was appointed deputy chief of staff to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and served on his transition team. She has served as corporate affairs vice president and political director for the California Chamber of Commerce, executive director for JobsPAC, director of public affairs for the California Retailers Association, director of governmental relations for the California Grocers Association, and state relations manager for the Food Marketing Institute.


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