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Imagining the Equitable Higher Education System for California’s Future

New report from IFTF highlights actions and partnerships for regions to drive educational and economic opportunity

The Golden State boasts the fifth-largest economy in the world—one that is distinguished by innovation, a vibrantly diverse population of dreamers and doers, and a world-famous higher education system.

Unfortunately, that higher education system is not serving all of California’s students. Our colleges and universities are inextricably tied to the economic future of our state and its communities. Changes to our economy mean that more jobs require a college degree. We must address persistent and widening equity gaps in college access, degree attainment, and socio-economic mobility if we are to build a thriving and inclusive economy. If we do not, our state’s already vast income inequality will continue to grow.

California needs a bold vision for a higher education system that is affordable, accessible, efficient, and equitable for new generations of learners and workers—and one that is deeply and purposefully connected to regional economic opportunity.

As part of our commitment to solving complex systemic issues by supporting outside-the-box thinking and innovative model development, College Futures Foundation commissioned the Institute for the Future (IFTF), a leading futures think tank, to analyze, explore, and ideate ways that California’s higher education system needs to be re-organized and re-imagined to ensure equity and socio-economic mobility for generations to come.

Using data, research, and interviews with experts and students from diverse backgrounds, IFTF developed a set of recommendations for a more future-ready, equitable higher education system; they are outlined in IFTF’s new report, Creating a Future-ready, Equitable Higher Education System.

“One high-impact idea that emerged from this research is that California’s higher education system must become not only more unified and student-centered, but more meaningfully connected to regional economic development efforts and focused on future workforce needs,” said Monica Lozano, President & CEO of College Futures Foundation. “When it comes to opportunity, place matters. Vibrant regional economies that can support attainment for diverse students and deliver them into meaningful, well-paying, and much-needed jobs don’t happen by accident. They are nurtured and thrive when leaders from educational institutions, government, philanthropy, and business come together intentionally to plan.”

The report presents a vision for connecting higher education training and opportunity more intentionally to local economies. In the model presented by IFTF, local leaders leverage a region’s unique assets and respond more effectively to its needs.

Said Marina Gorbis, Executive Director of Institute for the Future, “Enhancing cross-sector and cross-segment collaboration in California’s diverse regions will require bringing strong partners to the table help plan ahead and execute new ideas. Our hope with this work is to inject ideas into the conversation Californians are having about how to build an inclusive and robust economy. We have a chance to strengthen our state and its institutions for many decades to come if we focus on how higher education connects to regional economies.”

In fact, California already has several regional collaborations working on economic development issues. For some, their work could be expanded to include higher education. Those working on integrated economic and educational attainment efforts could adopt concrete ideas outlined in the report and engage the right partners from the right areas of expertise—philanthropy, policy, and technical support providers, to name a few.

Said Lozano, “This is a unique moment for higher education, which is deeply connected to the health of our economy and socio-economic opportunity. There are regional planning conversations already taking place. Philanthropy can play an important role by seeding bold ideas, providing research, and supporting institutions to step back, breathe, and plan for the future. Financial resources flowing through the state could be better leveraged for these efforts. We have the elements we need. Let’s seize the moment.”



The recommendations in this report are those of IFTF and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of College Futures Foundation.