Imagine a teeming nerve center focused on tackling income inequality, educating the next generation of scientists, teachers and civil rights officials, voter registration, immunizing people against COVID-19 , the fight against hunger and the accommodation of those fleeing disasters caused by climate change.
In towns and cities across California and online, 116 community colleges are doing all of this and more. They are our state’s primary gateway to higher education and have raised millions of Californians into the middle class and beyond. They are the heart of their communities and the engines that power the California workforce.
However, too many community college students have been forced by the pandemic to put their college dreams on hold and instead focus on surviving in times of uncertainty. Many of them have been pushed into roles of primary economic breadwinners in their multigenerational home, a full-time job deemed “essential”. And many more face hunger and homelessness, which was already far too common for our students, even before COVID-19 hit.
For a system that has refused to stop fighting poverty, the bigger lessons have become clearer as our students, faculty and staff continue to be disproportionately affected by the pandemic. As we seek to unmask these impacts, key lessons emerge.
With poverty comes hunger, homelessness and the erosion of potential. Student financial aid is the air that lets education breathe. I know this firsthand as a former foster child and first generation student. We have to bear the full cost of the success of community college students.
While major structural reforms have been approved for the Cal Grant system this year, more changes and additional investments are needed to make it better and fairer. Assembly Bill 1456 drafted by Democratic Assembly members Jose Medina of Riverside and Kevin McCarty of Sacramento and State Senator Connie Leyva, a Democrat from Chino, would do this. The legislation deserves the signature of Governor Gavin Newsom. This investment will be a critical down payment on the #TotalCostOfSuccess for community college students.
The pandemic has amplified the need to expand agile teaching and learning modalities. Skills-based education and prior learning credit will help us reach adult learners where they are and streamline clear pathways from program to work placement.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are essential to serving every Californian. We need to understand the complexities of poverty and become equity-focused educators and lead anti-racist institutions.
Partnerships with employers and regional coordination are essential to California’s recovery. Community colleges will help regional and national industry leaders innovate, incubate and lay the foundation for our future economy.
Finally, community colleges often serve as the final lifeline in state emergencies, housing the displaced, feeding the hungry, and becoming a basic community coordination and information center. Community colleges need to be supported to stay prepared when the next emergency arrives.
The pandemic is far from over and we will continue to learn. As our system continues to be on the front lines, we ask for your support to continue our mission of uplifting Californians. All hands on deck are needed to unravel and address the real and lasting effects of poverty on student enrollment, retention and success.
Join us on the frontline by sharing your success in community college, encourage students to enroll, ask the governor to sign AB 1456, and support continued investment in our students, especially in ways that modernize and humanize the ‘financial aid. If we work together, we will recover and achieve a future where our state remains a powerhouse in the global economy and a catalyst for social and economic mobility at home.