How have California’s colleges and universities weathered the storms of the past few years? Last week, PPIC president and CEO Tani Cantil-Sakauye spoke with three of the state’s higher education leaders about recent challenges and what’s to come for higher education.
The pandemic led to delayed learning and greater social and emotional health issues, said Mildred García, chancellor of California State University (CSU). She further emphasized the ongoing urgency of helping students with the cost of attendance and contending with the notion that a college degree is no longer necessary.
However, one bright spot has been “learning about different methods of education and how to continue research when you couldn’t go to your lab regularly,” noted Michael V. Drake, president of the University of California (UC). Now, UC is in the process of comparing the outcomes of online and in-person education and determining how best to incorporate hybrid learning experiences as campuses move into a post-pandemic future.
Artificial intelligence (AI) will play an important role in this future. “AI is here; it’s not on the horizon,” said Aisha Lowe, executive vice chancellor at the California Community Colleges. Since AI will likely affect workforce needs, she highlighted that the community colleges plan to design pathways that prepare students for the evolving job market. The system will also rely in part on AI and machine learning to standardize course numbering for 40,000 courses across 116 campuses, as required by Assembly Bill 1111.
Strengthening the transfer pathway, which helps community college students move to a four-year college and earn a bachelor’s degree, has been a major focus area for all three institutions. “This is the lifeblood of our system,” said García. She mentioned a promising program that offers CSU courses at local community colleges as a way to broaden the background of incoming students. “When you are low-income and first generation, you think—I used to think—oh, the university is for rich people…. Taking classes at a community college or high school with a CSU faculty member opens up possibilities and gives you confidence.”
Another strategy for expanding college access is dual enrollment, in which high school students take college courses and earn college credit. These programs encourage students to start thinking about college early, said Lowe. “As we invest in dual enrollment in the years to come, we will reap dividends in having more students in general, and more students of color, continuing their educational journey after high school.”
Regional diversity is also a key goal. Community colleges with low transfer rates to UC are often in remote areas, said Drake. A new pilot program aims to increase the number of transfer students these community colleges send to UC.
To serve rural areas that currently lack higher education options, the community colleges are exploring satellite campuses, partnerships with local employers, and other innovations that could bring higher education to more students. “We’re moving out of the traditional space of waiting for people to come to us,” said Lowe. “Our focus is … how do we identify the needs of the community and bring college to them?”
Stay tuned to the PPIC Higher Education Center for more insights into the landscape of higher education and strategies to enhance educational opportunities for all Californians.