Broad coalition of support grows for California’s online community college idea

580 200 Ed Coghlan

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A diverse coalition is building for Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to create a statewide online community college designed to serve workers who need more skills and credentials to move ahead but cannot access traditional college courses.

CA Fwd, co-organizer of the California Economic Summit, encouraged in a letter to key legislators that the proposal should be approved because, in addition to online instruction, the plan includes competency-based learning, multiple start times, and personalized support – all of which have been proven to work with untraditional students.

The Governor pointed out there are still two and a half million Californians between the ages of 25 and 34 who are working but lack a postsecondary degree or certificate.

“For this group, I want to create the California Online College so these overlooked Californians can get the training they need conveniently and at very low cost,” Brown said.

Across the diverse economic regions of California, the idea has gained support.

“This has the potential to impact rural communities which have not experienced the same access to higher education, economic growth and recovery as more populated areas in the state,” said Terrance Rodgers, economic development officer for Rural County Representatives of California. “Robust, high speed broadband deployment will be important so that all rural areas can fully participate in this innovative program aimed at arming prime-age working adults throughout the state with the necessary knowledge and skills to fully participate in the 21st century economy.”

In California’s most populous county, support for the proposal is based on the fact that workers need a flexible option to learn on their own schedule and won’t have to start from scratch.

“It is imperative that our education and training programs keep pace with the fast-developing technologies, innovations, and the unpredictable economic realities that business and industry adapt to on a daily basis,” said Alma Salazar, senior vice president of the Center for Education Excellence and Talent Development at the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce. “The community colleges’ online college provides yet another opportunity to ensure that our non-traditional students are obtaining the credentials that will allow them to access economic and social mobility.”

Creating a more skilled workforce benefits both business and labor, which is why the online community college is finding support across the state’s many economic sectors.

“In my business, I see technology bringing great efficiencies to work done previously by many tradespeople. There’s no turning back those advances,” said Jim Hussey, chair of the California Apprenticeship Council and COO at the Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 104 Bay Area Industry Training Fund. “We just need more ways for people to skill up, like using this online college to help journeymen workers step into foreman/first-line supervisor roles.”

The Governor’s proposal is based on the need to rethink traditional delivery models and meet this working population where and when they are ready to gain skills.

“The Californians we seek to reach cannot stop working to get the education they need to get ahead, and many of them juggle multiple jobs to feed their families,” said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.

As the CA Fwd letter to Budget Committee leaders in the Assembly and the Senate points out, of the 2.5 million working-age Californians in need of up-skilling, 49 percent are Latino, 31 percent white, 9 percent Asian and 7 percent African American. 

“Many of them are primary the primary wage earner for their household. They often work full-time jobs and care for children and aging parents. They can’t fight traffic at rush hour for several months to get to a classroom to complete a single class. The 115th community college also will create more opportunities to partner with employers to make sure students are learning the right skills without wasting valuable time on unnecessary classes. These partnerships will increase the chances of employment upon completion, position programs to more quickly adapt to technology and other changes in the workplace, and even help employers to integrate learning into work schedules.”

For more examples of the support that the online community college proposal is receiving from leaders across California, click here.

The Legislature will vote this summer on the budget proposal for $100 million in funding to start up the online college and also $20 million in ongoing costs.


Ed Coghlan

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