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An Instrumentation Technology student at Los Medanos College; photo courtesy of the CCC Chancellor's OfficeAddressing a projected shortage of 1.1 million educated workers by 2030, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) launched a center to identify higher education policies that improve student success and institutional effectiveness.

The PPIC Higher Education Center will work to “advance practical solutions that enable enhanced education opportunities for all Californians, improving lives and extending opportunities for economic growth across the state,” according to the organization.

Higher education has been a focus of a number of recent PPIC research reports. Creating a center devoted to public higher education policy in California moves the discussion to the forefront of PPIC’s work, in the vein of high-profile initiatives such as the Water Policy Center and statewide public opinion survey, said PPIC Senior Fellow Hans Johnson, who was named director of the Higher Education Center.

No Coordinated Oversight

Unlike most other states, California has no coordinating body to provide oversight and goal-setting for its three public higher education systems, making management of higher education more challenging, according to the PPIC report, “Higher Education in California,” released in conjunction with the announcement of the new research center. Through the center, PPIC aims to informally fill that role by shining a light on the key challenges and opportunities for California higher education, and recommending policy changes.

In a public announcement of the initiative, Johnson said the center will focus on three key areas:

  • Expanding access to higher education: California ranks 47th in the U.S. in the share of high school graduates that go directly to a four-year college or university.
  • Improving outcomes, both for students and the state: Less than half of California community college students earn a certificate or degree, or transfer to a four-year program; less than 60 percent of California State University (CSU) students complete a bachelor’s degree.
  • Helping to determine effective funding approaches to keep college affordable: Tuition at CSU and University of California is at an all-time high, but the problem of how to fund the state’s education system persists.

Work Being Done

“Despite these challenges... I’m actually quite optimistic; there are lots of innovations and opportunities for moving forward,” Johnson said.

In terms of access, an SB103 working group is looking at whether eligibility levels need to be adjusted for high school students going into four-year colleges or universities.

Around completions, the California Community Colleges Student Success Initiative has resulted in numerous innovations and promising new programs, among them the Common Assessment Initiative, Education Planning Initiative and Online Education Initiative. Additionally, the CSU has put more focus on increasing graduation rates.

Meanwhile, the financial picture has improved, Johnson said, with some renewed funding for higher education in California.

"The key to closing California’s education skills gap is to take action today,” Johnson said. "The state has clear opportunities to set new goals for higher education—goals consistent with the economic demands and demographic realities of the 21st century.”

Crista Souza is the TechEDge News Editor