To evaluate the recommendations included in the policy matrix and others proposed by Commission members, the Commission established a vision that “In California, all residents will have the opportunity to complete a quality postsecondary education in a timely manner.”
Underlying this vision were three equally important values—access, success and equity. While some studies have suggested focusing solely on graduation “rates” – the aggregate number of completions produced in higher education – the Commission is deeply concerned that California’s economic and political stability will be threatened unless improvements in participation and completion rates are made across demographic and socio-economic groups.
- Success: Programs and support services should be designed to maximize the ability of students to be successful in meeting their higher education goals (e.g., certificate or degree completion.)
- Equity: Access and success should regularly be monitored (by ethnicity and social class) and interventions to close achievement gaps between groups should be a campus priority.
- Access: California should continue to lead the nation in participation rate (i.e., the number of students per 1,000 residents) enrolled in higher education.
- Success: California’s community colleges will increase completions by 1 million by 2020.
- Equity: California’s community colleges will eliminate the achievement gap.
- Access: California’s community colleges will close participation rate gaps.
As discussed above, several goals for increasing higher education attainment have been set at the state and national levels. Some of these goals pertain to California specifically while others are national. Some address community colleges only; others consider overall higher education achievement. Some focus on the year 2020, and others 2025. Given these different—and at times conflicting—goals, the Commission wrestled with how to select a specific metric by which to measure student success improvements in community colleges.
The Lumina Foundation projects that for California to achieve its share of the national goal of 60% degree attainment of 25- to 64-year-olds by 2025, an additional 4,745,448 baccalaureate and associate degrees, or 34,893 more each year, would need to be produced. As community college associate degrees account for 32.1% of existing annual associate and baccalaureate degree production, the community college share of the Lumina goal would be around 1.5 million more associate degrees by 2025.
Under the American Graduation Initiative’s call to increase community college completions by 5 million nationally by 2020, California’s share of the goal could be interpreted as 1,065,000, as California enrolled 21.3% of the nation’s full-time equivalent public community college students in 2007.
This number, which can be isolated as a community college goal and complements the need for increased baccalaureate attainment, is ambitious, particularly given the state’s budget prospects. Nevertheless, while current budget constraints leading to reduced access, lost purchasing power and student service program cuts make the goal daunting, the Commission believes that it is necessary to establish a goal that meets the economic needs of the state and nation.
To achieve California’s share of the national goal, it will require that the system increase completions, an average increase of 29,316 (13%) each year. With this annual progress, the system can triple the number of annual degree and certificate completions than otherwise would be awarded. On a per college basis, on average each of the 112 colleges will need to increase annual completions from 1,200 to 3,500.
The Commission calls upon california’s community colleges to increase certificate and associate degree completions by 1 million by 2020.
While much of the national focus has been on increasing the absolute number of students achieving higher education credentials, the Commission believes that ensuring that progress is made in a manner that distributes educational opportunity across demographic lines is equally as important as the absolute number of individuals who receive higher education credentials. Educational achievement for the purpose of economic growth is important, but if it is disproportionate among certain demographic groups or geographic regions, a stable democratic society cannot be maintained.
Measuring achievement gaps among enrolled students is difficult because of the lack of disaggregated data within California’s community colleges, the difficulty in identifying student goals and external factors affecting student success. Nevertheless, it is well reported and acknowledged that Latino and black students are significantly less likely to complete transfer, degree or certificate programs. Shulock and Moore find that, in addition to overall deficits in completion, Latino and black students are 5-10% less likely to complete than their white and Asian peers, data which are generally consistent with the disaggregated data currently available at the system level.
The Commission calls upon community colleges to eliminate the achievement gap among demographic and socioeconomic groups.
While the achievement gap speaks to differential success rates of students who enroll in higher education, there is also uneven participation among California’s communities along demographic lines. This is primarily true for the fast-growing Latino population. Over the next ten years, the California Postsecondary Education Commission projects that Latino enrollment in community colleges will increase by 40% while the absolute number of white students will remain constant. By 2040, there will be three Latino babies born annually for every one white baby. Unless the participation rate gap is reduced or eliminated, it will be very difficult for California to maintain, let alone increase, higher education completions. Meanwhile, political instability will be created as the fastest growing portion of the population will be least likely to participate in the economic promise of the state.4
The Commission calls upon community colleges to close the participation gap among socioeconomic and demographic groups.
Addressing the achievement and participation gaps is equally an economic necessity, a moral imperative and an expression of the economic and democratic promise of the state. If achievement among the fastest growing communities lags significantly behind the achievement of other communities, the state cannot escape a future of increased inequality, political and social instability, and sluggish economic growth.
In support of the mission and values, the Commission presents key recommendations
. These recommendations are divided into four main categories: Leadership and Accountability; Intensive Student Support; Teaching and Learning; Finance and Affordability. While these recommendations are not exhaustive, the represent data-proven best practices for community college student success. These recommendations received overwhelming approval of commission members via an extensive vetting process.