Pathways Out of Poverty for Vulnerable Californians

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On the same day the White House hosts a summit on community colleges, PolicyLink – a research group that advocates for economic and social equality – released a report examining the state of community college education and how these schools can play a role, both through internal reform and government policy changes, to create more jobs.

The Oakland, Calif.-based PolicyLink, writes that community colleges “are one of [California’s] key vehicles for economic mobility and social equity” if they can adapt to the latest technical changes in the job-producing sectors of construction, green jobs, logistics, utilities and water.

Researchers examined California’s labor market and education field to make these observations:

  • There is a growing unmet demand for community college-trained and/or state-certified workers in the infrastructure sector.
  • Though small in scale, community colleges have developed training programs that are successfully preparing students for work in infrastructure fields.
  • Policy reforms at the district, state and national level are necessary to bring these ‘boutique’ training programs to scale.
  • Public education and advocacy are needed to ensure that the principles of inclusion and equity guide the allocation of infrastructure and of training resources.

The report found nearly 800,000 “middle-skill” California jobs available to those with less than a bachelor degree, or as the authors note, “nearly enough positions to put to work the roughly 1 million 18- to-24-year-old Californians without high school diplomas.” 

Community colleges, according the report, can also be used to address the academic pursuits of the state’s 58 percent of high school graduates who do not meet the requirements for the University of California and California State University systems.

The authors call for community colleges to amend curricula to adapt to changes in these middle-skill job sectors, among them: the shift from fossil fuels to renewables in public utilities production, energy efficiency in building construction, a reordering of transportation construction priorities to account for mass transit and less focus on roads and highways.

The report concludes with a list of barriers to community colleges’ success – including a lack of academic and work-readiness among 18- to-24-year-olds, young adults’ lack of knowledge of community colleges’ benefits, lack of tutoring and counseling and inadequate financial aid – along with a list of recommended policy changes to address these shortfalls. Among the policy recommendations: aligning state funding to school accountability  and  including support to workforce-development programs as part of a broader economic recovery effort.

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