Our 2019 Policy Platform: Modernize California’s Higher Education System


As we harness the momentum we built in 2018 around our policy priorities for higher education, California Competes is committed to advancing equity, prosperity, and economic growth by modernizing California’s higher education system. California’s leaders are well-positioned to enact key changes to reduce the state’s stark inequities and increase economic mobility. At California Competes, we conduct original policy research and recommend strategic, smart, and bold solutions to make our higher education system more equitable, coordinated, and transparent. We will move our strategy forward in 2019, prioritizing the following policy areas:

1. Expand opportunities for adults to return to college, removing the structural barriers that prevent too many of them from achieving their postsecondary goals.

Four million adults in California aged 25-64 attended some college but left before completing a degree. The state has a prime opportunity to fuel its economy and address systemic inequities by developing reentry points for these individuals.

Governor Newsom’s January budget proposed to support degree completion for this population through University of California extension centers, as well as California State University’s expansion of on-campus child care centers frequented by returning adults who are balancing school and family life. The governor’s budget proposal also allocates new Cal Grant Access awards for students with dependent children, acknowledging the financial strain of higher education on student parents. In addition to Governor Newsom’s proposal to boost support for adult students, California is home to some emerging and promising efforts, such as the California Community Colleges’ plan to expand Credit for Prior Learning for all students, and the Online Community College. These are positive steps toward systemic reform, and we hope they are reflective of a long-term commitment to adopting innovative solutions to higher education’s most pressing challenges.

In addition to this progress, California policymakers can:

  • Further improve access to academic and student support services for returning adults, most of whom are working full-time and have dependent children.
  • Minimize restrictions on student financial aid that disproportionately increase the cost of college for adults. Read our blog post on current financial aid proposals aimed at better supporting adults.
  • Reduce institutional roadblocks to re-enrollment caused by administrative policies and lack of coordination between institutions.
  • Better connect education to the workplace by incentivizing employers to invest in their employees’ degree completion efforts.

Learn more in our Back to College series.

2. Develop a longitudinal data system that links information across the education-to-employment pipeline and provides timely, accurate, and transparent information to all stakeholders.

California must apply the tools of the digital age to make higher education responsive and meaningful. To serve students and families effectively and equitably, policymakers must have accurate and accessible information that better illuminates the student and worker experience.

The lack of a comprehensive data system makes it difficult for California to measure students’ progress across institutions, limiting the state’s ability to develop student-centered policies. Governor Newsom’s recent budget proposal includes $10 million to plan for and develop such a system.

This data system should:

  • Connect early childhood, elementary, secondary, postsecondary, and workforce data systems at the individual level.
  • Drive and support statewide education and economic goals.
  • Serve as the primary repository for up-to-date and historical education and workforce data.
  • Overcome historical independence challenges that limit the state’s ability to use existing data.

Learn more by reading our blog post featuring California Competes’ testimony on building a statewide longitudinal data system for California and our publication, Out of the Dark: Bringing California’s Education Data Into the 21st Century.

3. Build cohesion across higher education institutions by establishing a new statewide coordinating entity.

As one of only two states without such an agency to coordinate its higher education system, California relies too much on siloed initiatives without a cohesive strategy to bring these efforts together for improved outcomes for students and the state. While institutional segments should collaborate with the body on policy priorities, it should be fundamentally independent to serve solely in the best interest of the state and its students.

California can establish a coordinating entity that:

  • Addresses inequities in access to educational opportunities and develop policies to level the education and workforce playing field for all Californians.
  • Sets goals for higher education based on the projected need for postsecondary education, training, and workforce development.
  • Closes gaps between available programs and those in demand by students and the economy.
  • Reduces costs by recommending strategies for course delivery and college operations during periods of economic growth and contraction.
  • Improves transparency and efficiency by managing a statewide longitudinal data system that provides information upon which students and the state can make informed decisions.

Learn more in The Case for a Statewide Higher Education Coordinating Entity.

A modernized higher education system is the key to preparing our workforce for jobs in the innovation economy and preserving California’s leadership in the global economy. State lawmakers can rise to this challenge by supporting these commonsense efforts to ensure our higher education system benefits all Californians.

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