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Video: Higher Education & Our Economic Future

Linda Strean October 16, 2015
photo - Gavin Newsom and Mark Baldassare

“The world is radically changed,” Gavin Newsom, California’s lieutenant governor, told a Sacramento audience this week.

“We’re competing against billions and billions of people, not just competing against cheap labor now, but against cheap genius,” he continued.

Newsom—who is also a University of California regent and California State University trustee—spoke in a conversation with Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. PPIC’s new report Will California Run Out of College Graduates? provided the context for the discussion. The report concludes that California will fall 1.1 million college graduates short of economic demand by 2030, if current trends persist.

Newsom said that “there is not a major industrialized nation in the world that is not focusing with intention on radically transforming their education system. One of the remarkable things about California is that we do not have a plan.”

He summed up: “We need goals. And we need to be able to measure those goals. And those goals must emanate from the state itself.”

Newsom was not the only speaker at the PPIC event to use words like “radical” and “revolution” to describe changes needed in higher education.

At a subsequent panel discussion, state assemblymember Catharine Baker said she is concerned that the state is falling short of the workforce needed even now. She noted that there is bipartisan agreement in the legislature that higher education is important but not about the need for major change. “There is a lot more focus on issues around the margins, that is, on how many students are we admitting, what few changes we can make in the community college system.”

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, superintendent-president of the Long Beach Community College District, said, “We almost need a revolution in our system. We started to get there when we were in crisis mode.”

“During the recession, we saw more creativity than ever before in the community college system and we began to focus,” he said. “I fear that post-recession that focus will start to dissipate.”

Hans Johnson, coauthor of the PPIC report and PPIC senior fellow, said the big challenge for the state is replacing the retiring baby boom generation with young, well-educated workers.

“I think there is a very clear path to closing that skills gap,” he said. “We need to have more students going to colleges—especially four-year colleges. We need improve completion rates—that opens up room for more students. We need to improve transfer rates from community colleges to the four-year colleges. And if we do all of those things—and these are all decisions we can make, as policymakers and higher education officials—we can actually close that skills gap.”

Timothy White, California State University chancellor, said CSU can do its part to fill the workforce skills gap—with the help of its educational and funding partners. He called the PPIC report “a very sobering clarion call that is of crisis proportion— not for the CSU or for the University of California, or the community colleges, but rather for California. And I hope we take it with the seriousness that it deserves.”

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