Commentary

03/06/2015  by Ed Coghlan

Millennial Californians counting on more access and innovation in higher ed


(Photo Credit: John Guenther)

More than 200 education, business and civic leaders from across California will gather in Sacramento on Monday (March 9) for the California Awards for Innovation in Higher Education Showcase. The Showcase will highlight campuses that have innovated to significantly increase the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded, allow students to complete bachelor’s degrees within four years, and ease transfer throughout the state’s education system.

One of the partners in the Showcase is the Young Invincibles, which is a national non-profit organization that focuses on empowering young America. Their California Policy and Organizing Manager Brian Burrell shared some thoughts about the importance of innovation in higher education.

CA Fwd: Why is your group partnering with the Innovation Awards?

Brian Burrell: At Young Invincibles, we believe access to affordable and quality higher education provides a path to financial security for young Californians. However, with tuition at public schools rising by 63 percent in the past 10 years and fewer resources available to educators, California Millennials are struggling more than any other generation to make ends meet. We’re excited to join forces with the Innovation Awards to continue the push to find solutions to increase young Californians' ability to pursue a higher education.

Why is innovation in California higher education an important concept to promote?

California has long been a leader in higher education. For example, we were one of the first states to provide in-state tuition for undocumented students and our community college system is the largest in the U.S. While California has made huge strides, we must continue to improve our higher education system for students and all of California.

The Innovation Awards will provide a space for academic institutions to share examples of successes and lessons learned, so that all of California can benefit from best practices. With rising tuition costs and shifting economic demands, it's crucial that we all work together to ensure our students have access to the best higher education and employment opportunities.

What is on the line for the students, in particular?

With newly emerging degrees and career opportunities and a rise in non-traditional degree pathways, students and universities face new challenges to higher education attainment. Without a seamless path from high school to community college or a four-year university to a job, many students fall through the cracks. California needs to provide clearer steps to help all students plan for their degree and to land a job. Many universities and community colleges have worked to improve these outcomes, but we have a ways to go. We look forward to seeing an expansion of innovation in higher education to ensure all students have pathways to a successful future.

State divestment in higher education is another major issue affecting students. California has cut its higher education by 21 percent in the past six years. Lack of funding has caused colleges and universities to find creative ways to do more with fewer funds, but schools desperately need more funding to adequately serve students and keep college affordable.

While the fight for funding continues, the Innovation Awards provide a chance for universities and colleges to showcase their efforts to ensure students receive a high quality and affordable education.

Should this program--or something like it--be continued to promote and encourage continuing development of innovative programs in California higher education? 

Yes. We're excited to see what California universities and colleges bring to the showcase, and to see how the outcomes of the Innovation Awards promote new programs to boost higher education attainment. We hope that these conversations continue the push for statewide efforts to create a better future for California students and institutions of higher education.

In addition to California Forward and the Young Invincibles, other partners for the Showcase include the College Futures Foundation, California Competes, the Campaign for College Opportunity, the Center for California Studies, and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

Categories: Community Services, Innovation in Higher Education, Education

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