Preparing for the looming shortage of educated workers

Preparing for the looming shortage of educated workers

(Calif.) To close a shortage of more than 1 million college-educated workers by 2030, California taxpayers will need to invest a lot more money expanding the capacity of traditional brick-and-mortar campuses, according to a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California.

Although the University of California, the California State University and the community college system continue to pursue online learning opportunities, leaders of the state’s higher education institutions say the most successful route to graduating more students is to hire more faculty, add more course sections and employ more advisers, tutors and financial aid counselors.

“What they tell us is that currently, online learning isn’t the money saver that some thought it might be,” said Hans Johnson, director of the PPIC’s higher Education Center and lead author of new analysis of California’s coming shortage of workers with a bachelor’s degree.

“One reason is because there are still a lot of infrastructure needs related to technology and course development,” he said. “But also, students are less likely to pass online courses than face to face courses, and failure is expensive.  To improve student outcomes, colleges must still provide a lot of tutoring and instructional services to online students.”

The report released Tuesday specifically looked at the role three geographic regions of the state would have to play for California to meet future work force demands: Los Angeles County; the Inland Empire; and the San Joaquin Valley.

The rationale for focusing on these three regions is tied to the assumption that the state’s future labor needs can only be met by getting more low-income, first generation, Latino and African American students who are not only becoming college-ready, but graduates as well.

To start, the PPIC team suggested, policy makers should focus on strategies for translating more high school graduates into higher education degrees. The three regions combined award more than half of the state’s high school diplomas but only 36 percent of its college degrees.

Officials should also find ways to reduce the troubling trend of college students taking five and six years to complete their education.

“Improving four-year graduation rates—thereby allowing existing faculty and staff to serve more students—will be critical to sustaining college enrollment growth,” the authors of the report said. “Both California State University and the University of California have recently undertaken ambitious initiatives to boost four year graduation rates, which would improve institutional capacity.

Establishing satellite campuses is another important strategy to support greater enrollment capacity and offer higher education opportunities closer to where students live. This approach may also serve as a model for piloting new campuses without the significant upfront costs of developing a new campus from scratch.”

There is also a pressing need to streamline the process that students must undertake to transfer from community college to either university system.

The 2017-18 state budget includes $150 million to support a pilot program that would better align curriculum, establish transfer agreements and student services. The Guided Pathways initiative is intended to be especially mindful of the needs of low-income and first generation students.

PPIC also recommended that school districts, community colleges and four-year universities form partnerships to provide more outreach and support to underserved communities. Giving targeted students priority registration might be one issue such programs could address. Another might be helping an incoming freshmen find an alternative when they are not admitted to their school of choice.