State Must Fulfill Its Commitment to Calbright College

Colleges across America are experiencing an unprecedented enrollment crisis. California’s own community college system has fallen below two million for the first time in decades — representing a loss of more than 300,000 students during the pandemic. Collectively, California’s higher education enrollment decline represents a 26% share of the national decline. Institutions of higher education are losing older students, parents, caregivers, and those from underrepresented communities at an alarming rate – the kind of students the new, fully online Calbright College was created to serve. The Council has supported Calbright College since its inception, and continues to see Calbright as a critical service for Californians looking build skills and increase their earning potential.

It’s important that California builds systems that work for everyone, and that elected officials think creatively about meeting the changing needs of both today’s students and the rapidly evolving economy. Governor Newsom’s answer is to grow the size of the pie of potential students, to improve on what we know works and to think creatively about solutions to shared challenges. Calbright’s enrollment has grown by 110% since July 2021 and is just now hitting its stride after opening shortly before the pandemic. The College is iterating and evolving quickly and has launched partnerships with state leaders like UC Irvine’s School of Education to apply behavioral science and data analytics to activities across the student lifecycle that drive stronger outcomes for adult learners.

To expand affordable access to education and workforce training programs in high-demand fields, Calbright is currently developing a Licensed Vocational Nurse training program in partnership with SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West. This program addresses a statewide healthcare workforce shortage and will be a low-cost, statewide, and accessible alternative to the for-profit degree paths that are in some cases offered for more than $30,000, and are often financed by student loans.

It’s critical that the Legislature honor its promise of providing a seven-year startup period for Calbright. Given the disproportionate impact this pandemic has had on Californians, the state should be embracing new modalities and offering more choices for today’s adult learners — not taking away this essential tool from the community college system. Opponents’ misguided arguments against Calbright have not evolved even as the College itself has made immense progress. Given the many discussions addressing equity, this is not the time that we should turn our back on students who are rarely the beneficiaries of efforts designed to nurture their success. The Council remains a staunch supporter of Calbright as we work to connect our Bay Area community into higher-paying jobs that increase economic mobility and fill much needed roles for our region’s businesses. To learn more, contact Senior Policy Manager Henry Bartholomay.

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