Insights & News
After eight wonderful, stimulating, and professionally very satisfying years as President & CEO of College Futures Foundation (previously known as College Access Foundation of California), I will be retiring effective June 30, 2017.
This was a difficult decision because I feel so engaged in the Foundation’s work. I believe, however, that there are natural breaks in an organization’s development, and the Foundation is at one of those moments. We have set a new trajectory that maintains a commitment to this and future generations of California’s students, positions the Foundation to support improvements and innovations in higher education policy and practice, and remains flexible and nimble to respond to a fast-changing set of external circumstances.
The Board of Directors is committed to staying on the course that we have set and expects to maintain the momentum of the work we have begun. This is a good time for a new President to take the helm and lead the Foundation to its next stage of development.
The mission of the Foundation – increasing college access and success among low-income students and students who have historically been underrepresented in higher education – brought me out of retirement in 2008. When I joined the Foundation, it was a three-year-old organization, getting started in philanthropy by awarding scholarships to these students. Since then, more than 21,000 very low income California students, mostly first in their family to go to college, have enrolled in college, supported by a Foundation scholarship.
The early graduation results are in: our scholarship students from the high school class of 2009 graduate from college at rates similar to the general student population in the University of California and California State Universities, despite being low-income and having access to fewer resources and advantages.
Investing in scholarships taught us two important lessons. First, we heard firsthand about the challenges our students faced navigating from high school through college. Their experiences influenced our decision to support efforts that build and strengthen the connections between high schools, community colleges, and BA degree-granting institutions. Our goal is to make sure the pipeline from high school through college flows more smoothly for all students. We think this is within our reach because we have met committed educators who, despite budget constraints, are trying different ways to work collaboratively to help their students succeed.
My arrival at the Foundation coincided with the global financial crisis. We immediately saw its effect on the state’s budget, and the inevitable reductions, which constrained access and opportunity for students we were encouraging to go to college. As the economy, and consequently the state budget improved, we learned our second lesson: we became convinced that the biggest impediment to achieving our mission is California’s dysfunctional system for paying for public higher education.
The problem of higher education finance is complex and there is no silver bullet. We think, however, improvements are possible and doable. We hope to spark a public conversation that lays out the many sides of the issue, and want to encourage deliberations that can lead to practical and sustainable financing solutions to reaffirm California’s commitment to public higher education for everyone.
It has been a wonderful journey. I leave this job with a profound sense of gratitude to the Board of Directors, who have been intellectual partners, have challenged me and supported me, and made my job so rewarding. I have been fortunate to work with superb staff, committed to excellence in their work, and with a passion for the mission of the Foundation. Finally, I leave inspired by the students I met during the many years we offered scholarships; the many community leaders and organizations that made educating young people a priority; and the dedicated educators who are committed to their students’ success.
Julia I. Lopez
President & CEO
College Futures Foundation