College-going culture improves quality of life, economy

By Dr. Barbara Hioco

The leaders of California’s three public higher education systems recently united in a call to update the state’s 50-year-old Master Plan for Higher Education.
While the once innovative master plan opened college doors to millions of Californians in the 1960s and decades that followed, Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, correctly notes, “We can do more.”

“Average Won’t Do It,” a recent report by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy, noted California is falling short in preparing and graduating college students. Researchers contend the master-planned public education system that bolstered California’s standing as a world economic and education leader has fallen into mediocrity.

At an appearance before the UC Regents’ January meeting, the education leaders, who also included CSU Chancellor Timothy White and California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris, stressed the need to make college education more affordable and accessible to all Californians by streamlining the student transfer process; increasing student outreach programs; and promoting communication between higher education systems. The key to achieving these goals, they said, is collaboration.

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the Central Valley has fewer high school students seeking college degrees or job skills training than the statewide average. About 51 percent of secondary school students statewide attend college to obtain a degree, or specialized technical training. In the Central Valley, that number is 25 percent.

There are many reasons for this disparity. With agriculture being a Central Valley dominant industry, farm work often creates seasonal jobs that do not require college educations. The tuition and fees universities charge leave even those who qualify to enroll believing that higher education is beyond their financial reach.

Years ago, the leaders of the Central Valley’s colleges and universities recognized the need to collaborate. They realized working together, rather than competing, would benefit students, higher education institutions, taxpayers and regional businesses.

Public and private colleges from Stockton to Bakersfield formed the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium in 2000. With 27 colleges and university members now participating, the consortium is focused on helping an increasing number of Central Valley students succeed in college.

Several initiatives have been launched to address access and performance issues. Just a few include:

  • Central California Community Colleges Committed to Change (C6) – An effort by 13 community colleges in the consortium to accelerate and intensify programs of study so students can earn a degree or certificate that enables them to enter the workforce in critical industries. College readiness is a C6 top priority.
  • CollegeNext Boot Camp – a program for high school juniors, during which they are given tools, including financial strategies, and trained to plan their post-high school educations and to serve as college-going advocates for their peers at their respective high schools.
  • Expanded involvement – The consortium is unique in that it brings college and university leaders together with K-12 administrators to develop programs to expand and streamline job training, and improve the college performance of high school graduates. Discussion is taking place among K-12 superintendents and higher education CEOs relative to the impact of the new Common Core Standards and Smarter Balanced assessment on both the K-12 institutions and higher education institutions.

The Central Valley Higher Education Consortium has not lost sight of the fact that many of the region’s graduates will be the first in their families to complete a college education, which can lead to breaking a cycle of poverty that exists in the Central Valley.

The quality of life and the economic vitality of California’s Central Valley depend on creating a “college-going culture” that gives the region’s residents access to higher education and helps them succeed.

Dr. Barbara Hioco is the executive director of the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium and the former president of Reedley College. Go to CollegeNext.org to learn more about improving college access in the Central Valley.