Member Spotlight: Calbright College Making Strides and Building Career Pathways for Californians

California’s first and only fully-online, public community college is making exceptional progress under the new leadership of President and CEO Ajita Talwalker Menon, who took the job in 2020 after serving in the Obama Administration as Special Assistant to the President for Higher Education Policy at the White House Domestic Policy Council. Now in its third year, Calbright has just over 1,000 actively enrolled students in one of five programs: IT Support, Cybersecurity, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Medical Coding, and Equitable Health Impacts. That’s a 110% increase in enrollment from July 2021. The Bay Area Council has been a supporter of Calbright College since its inception, supported the legislation that created Calbright College in 2018 and is partnering with Calbright to expand employer engagement with their students and programming.

Calbright is designed around a pioneering concept: publicly-funded, low-to-no cost online certification programs based on mastery of skills related to specific job functions — designed for nontraditional adult learners who otherwise would likely not attend any other institution of higher education. Calbright’s intense focus on innovation and equity is especially urgent in light of the state’s recovery from the pandemic, as many Californians are still experiencing unemployment, working multiple retail or gig economy jobs to make ends meet, and/or living in areas where the coronavirus remains active. 

Calbright’s dedication to innovation and equity is in line with the Council’s Workforce of the Future Committee goals to increase pathways into high-demand, family sustaining jobs that support historically underrepresented communities across the Bay Area. Expanding these pathways will expand opportunity and improve economic mobility for those struggling with the region’s cost of living most acutely.

As of February 28, 2022:

  • 80% of Calbright students identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color.
  • Students represent 40 counties across California, including 22 rural counties.
  • 92.2% of students are 25 or older; the median age is late 30s.
  • 40% of students are currently unemployed, 7% are working two or more jobs, and 31% are displaced workers who recently experienced job loss or a reduction in hours.
  • 32% of students are parents or caregivers (compared to around 10% across the rest of the CA Community Colleges system).

Seismic changes occurring in the labor market are forcing stakeholders to consider new adjustments to how we approach the intersection of education and workforce development. California — being accustomed to earthquakes — will be better prepared for success in this changing economy as Calbright moves into a new phase of high-quality, sustained program growth. To learn more about Calbright please contact Senior Policy Manager Henry Bartholomay.

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