Imagine a state that generates a gross domestic product (GDP) that would make it the 9th largest economy in the world. A state that has seen tremendous population growth in the last 25 years, skyrocketing property values and is home to some of the best known tech firms and entertainment celebrities. Now imagine that this state has a crumbling higher education system, which was recently the topic of a Chronicle of Higher Education article. This higher education system was the envy of the nation but according to a recent report by the California Competes Council, it now needs to produce 2.3 million more adults with a post secondary credential by 2025 in order for the state to meet its workforce demand. The workhorse of this higher education system, the state’s community college system, is educating over 2.5 million highly diverse students but is faced with tremendous challenges in improving its completion rate. This community college system has been the gateway to higher education for the majority of citizens but today is turning away hundreds of thousands of students. This state is not imaginary this is California. And what is happening in California community colleges is not only important to Californians but also to the entire country.
Like many other state community college systems, California’s 112 community college system has been wrestling with huge demographic shifts along with a major contraction of its state support. Add to this the need to significantly improve the number of students that successfully complete a certificate, associate degree or are prepared to transfer. According to the 2012 Accountability Reporting for Community Colleges (ARCC) report, 53.6 percent of community college students were completing one of these key academic milestones. With only 38 percent of adults (age 25-64) having obtained at least an associates degree, the need to scale up credential attainment is made clear. More concerning is the same data broken down by ethnicity that highlights the achievement lag that exists for Latino’s and African Americans. This is troublesome for California’s economy since by 2040 more than 60 percent of the workforce will be adults of color. (Read more.)