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At the beginning of the 20th Century, the economy faced a similar, but far more pervasive technology wave as agriculture transformed and tens of millions of workers with low education levels moved to the cities.  The response then was the High School Movement which took what was once available only to a relative few, and made this stage of education universally available.  In the process, worker skills overall made a leap forward, helping the US transform into the most productive industrial economy on the planet.

At the beginning of the 21st Century, California along with the other developed economies is faced with another technology wave that over time is likely to change many existing occupations and the overall nature of work.  The existing public school system, still largely based on the models from the 20th Century, is only preparing a portion of the population for these shifts.


California in particular must also cope with two demographic challenges:


  • We have the highest percentage among the states of adults aged 25 and older with less than a high school education.  With declines in the traditional industries that provided this demographic with higher paying jobs in the past, no meaningful progress on reducing poverty let alone promoting economic mobility is possible without addressing their circumstances.


  • Youth employment has crashed.  The early development of work place skills and experience that once provided another path towards higher lifetime earnings is increasingly not available. 


In addition, these challenges are exacerbated within specific population groups where current skills and workforce training remains limited or ineffective, including former inmates, farm workers, and adult immigrants with lower educational attainment.

In a time of transition when required skill levels are likely to change substantially for many occupations—both the current mix and the yet-to-be-known evolving structure—California schools remain largely focused on college-track education.  And in this respect, the results—whether measured by the persistent gaps in grade proficiency levels or the equally persistent gaps in the percentage of students graduating with the A-G coursework required for admission to University of California and California State University—suggest that the public schools no longer are functioning as the primary asset for adjusting to technological change, but instead now come close to serving as a winnowing process that risks relegating another generation—especially Blacks, Latinos, and low-income students overall—to the income levels in which they are now without the skills necessary for upward mobility in a changing state.  







This current state of education in California also threatens to intensify the current two-tier nature of jobs creation by failing to provide the home-grown skills required for a competitive workforce in future years.  Employers are already facing this disconnect in industries as varied as Silicon Valley and construction, where workers at the required skill levels are not being produced in adequate numbers through the state’s schools but instead must be filled by increasing reliance on workers coming in from other states and other countries.  This disconnect between skills demand and skills supply produced through the state’s schools will only intensify as the current workforce continues to age, and Baby Boomer retirements produce a corresponding spike in the need for replacements.  


Without new options that open up higher pay jobs for students, the state is simply recreating the generational circumstances that will lock in California as the state with the highest poverty rate for years to come.  Without changes that produce better outcomes for all students—in particular Latinos, Blacks, and low income Californians overall—the schools also risk becoming a means of perpetuating the current economic divides rather than being the path to upward mobility for these demographics.


1.Reshape Public Education from K-12 to K-14


Regardless of the net effect on the number of jobs, the current technology trends are likely to require an increasing level of skills for many occupations, especially for those paying higher than minimum wage.  The public schools now fail to instill these skills across many demographics.  The Community Colleges are an existing resource that can be used to ensure broader dispersion.


  • For students not otherwise going directly to a 4-year college or university, provide universal Community College for students enrolled in a certificate program or an AA/AS for Transfer program.  Currently, just under half of students attend community college tuition-free, while another fifth receive grants and scholarships achieving nearly the same result.  The range of programs provided through this system contains the necessarily broad opportunities that can prepare students for higher paying jobs, whether through the career technical education route available through certification program or preparation for 4-year institutions through the AA/AS Transfer degree.  The community colleges also embody the concept of “stackable certificates” that enables students to obtain the skills needed immediately for higher paying jobs, while building the base for further education and training in the future that can lead to other job opportunities or a 4-year degree.


  • Given the high percentage of students already attending tuition free, the costs of this concept is difficult to estimate.  In 2015, 47% of Californians age 18-24 were in college, with 30% of that group in community college.  Applying these factors to the 2015-16 cohort results, at maximum, in the community colleges accommodating about another 500,000 students each 2-year period.  At the 2017-18 annual per student funding rate, the additional cost would be $2.6 billion but likely smaller given that not all this group would attend, not all would go full time or the full two years, and many already qualify for tuition-free attendance and would not represent an addition to current costs within the system.  Potential funding sources, however, for this and the related components below would include the following:


  • Redirection of administrative costs related to the programs transformed into a broader state EITC, including funds currently allocated for this purpose from federal, state, and local sources.


  • As contained within Recommendation 1, consolidation of local agency services would also free up existing property tax revenues for reallocation to the community college districts.


  • The overall costs and effectiveness of this system is also dependent on improving completion rates, facilitating the transfer process, and reducing the current situation where Community College students take substantially more than two years to complete their transfer requirements, but then take 6.4 years to finish a BA degree at UC and 7 years at a CSU.[i]


  • Achieve greater standardization of General Education requirements across the three higher education systems so that students have greater certainty on the required courses and that students from any Community College have the ability to transfer to any CSU or UC without the need to take additional courses after transfer.  The state’s private universities should be invited to participate in this effort as well.


  • Simplify/standardize the transfer process to a CSU or UC 4-year degree program through the AA/AS Transfer degree.


It is important to recognize, however, that reshaping public education to K-14 is a response to the increasing technical demands likely to be faced in many if not most future occupations.  Simply adding two years, however, is not a substitute for continuing efforts at the K-12 levels to reintroduce career technical education early both as a component of teaching life skills now absent in the public schools and as an early introduction to a broader range of career paths leading to higher life-time earnings.  Simply adding two years also is not a replacement for the continuing need to improve public school outcomes overall including equal access to the A-G offerings, especially for the demographics—including Latinos, Blacks, and low income students—not being fully served by the current system.


2.Allow Dual Enrollment for Students Beginning in Their Junior Year


While some funding has been added in recent years for career technical education (CTE)—in particular funds from the various training and assistance programs described in the project’s report—the funding still remains well below levels previously provided through the schools to provide alternative paths leading to higher paying jobs.  More critically, they remain well below the levels required to provide viable alternatives—including paths that eventually lead to a 4-year degree—for the major demographic components not being prepared for the 4-year institutions and those who otherwise drop out because the schools do not provide them with these options.  To complement these existing efforts, dual enrollment provides a pathway to increase the CTE options substantially within a short time frame that can immediately provide options to students currently within the K-12 schools.  Dual enrollment would also contribute to degree completion rates by giving students options beyond those that now exist only through AP courses.


  • For students choosing this education option, require that they continue to complete the core requirements in their first two years of high school, but provide for dual enrollment in classes at the local community college beginning their junior year.  These courses should be in a certificate program, leading into further skills development following graduation or into an AA/AS Transferable degree program.


  • Propose a bond—including consideration of a multi-year bond package—to finance the required capital additions at the community colleges.  Ongoing funding would be from the current LCFF apportionments attributable to the students choosing this option, distributed between the school district and community college based on classes taken.


3.Expand Online Learning


Governor Brown’s Proposed Budget for 2018-19 calls for creation of a California Online College, to provide an alternative skills development option for those who lack the time or, often due to related high housing costs, the ability to enroll in traditional classes.  This proposal is fully consistent with the skills training needs and a means to overcome some of the skills training barriers identified in the project’s research.  Expanded to incorporate considerations under Recommendations 7, 8, and 10, this proposal also can be an efficient means to help accomplish these recommendations at lower overall cost while also accelerating degree completion rates.


4. Expand Apprenticeships


A number of northern European countries have been able to achieve very low youth unemployment rates while also supporting retention and expansion of jobs in traditional blue collar, middle class wage industries through extensive apprenticeship programs.  This option is possible in those economies due to differing labor laws and customs and through laws that accommodate employer participation that would not be allowed in the US under its anti-trust laws.  As a result, it is far more difficult to sustain such programs in the US as employers are reluctant to incur the substantial training costs involved without assurances that apprentices will go on to become employees.  Consequently, programs such as this require relatively higher involvement by the schools or other public agencies.


California does have an active apprentice program for the building trades, along with others in areas such as automotive, barbers, information technology, health services, and hospitality.  Many of these, however, are local efforts and do not provide the scale of opportunities needed to deal with the potential demand as measured by such factors as the drop in youth employment, drop-outs, and high school graduates who do not go on to college.  Expansion potential is also limited by the fact that current programs have been developed on an individual basis, rather than a structure that applies universally and can be applied to a broader range of occupations and population.  In the most recent report,[ii] California in 2016 had only 74,000 active apprentices, and 9,000 total completions.  The potential applications, however, are much broader including gateway occupations into the state’s higher wage industries.


  • Convene working group of state business associations, including those in Silicon Valley, to identify occupations amenable to apprenticeships and develop recommendations for changes to state law required to produce a broader effort tied more closely to the state’s educational systems.  This step should be expansive and look at a broader range of occupations beyond those traditionally covered by apprenticeships, as a means to broaden the in-state training options to match with areas of looming skill shortages and to expand the opportunities, especially for the student populations with currently unacceptable educational outcomes, to augment existing education and training programs with applied experience.  In the second stage, broaden the group to include community colleges and other interests to develop specific programs.


  • Incorporate apprenticeship opportunities/requirements into the certificate programs under Recommendations 7 and 8 to build experience and reduce dropout rates.


  • As applicable, incorporate apprenticeship periods as alternative to satisfy any experience requirements for licensing as discussed under Recommendation 4.


[i] The Campaign for College Opportunity, The Transfer Maze: The High Cost to Students and the State of California, September 2017.


[ii] Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Apprenticeship Standards, 2016 Legislative Report.


Half of survey respondents were asked about the perceived value of vocational education programs in high school in order to prepare them for the workplace, and the other half were asked about the perceived value of college preparatory classes in high school.  An overwhelming majority noted that they would have found vocational education (80%) or college preparatory classes (74%) helpful while in high school to better prepare them for work. 


When asked directly about what the business community could do to improve the economic mobility of their workers, focus group respondents suggest flexible hours to accommodate school schedules, on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs. 

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