News & Commentary

Our Socio-Economic Mobility Imperative

College as we knew it is dead. But a postsecondary education is more necessary than ever. You can’t get a good job without a postsecondary education. Colleges and universities aren’t keeping up with the changing times and attitudes when it comes to preparing and connecting learners to the workforce. College debt has become everybody’s problem. An educated populace is required to solve tomorrow’s big issues.

If you pay attention to the news, you’ve probably heard all of these statements in the past year.

They are all true.

Ironically, when it comes to figuring out solutions, who is too often forgotten in these public debates about postsecondary education? Learners. Real people with big dreams and talent who are trying to make a better life for their families.

California is at a crossroads. On a grand scale, we are seeing decreasing birth rates, ever-changing labor markets, a rapid pace of technological innovation, and the continued growth of inequality. Learners need better solutions when it comes to accessing and succeeding in postsecondary education settings that lead to meaningful and well-paying jobs.

They are questioning the value of a college education. Credentials and degrees translate to real-world skills and opportunities, but students’ frustrating experiences reflect our state’s and systems’ outdated understanding about learners’ aspirations and needs, as well as outdated models about how best to deliver education via clear pathways.

It is time for leaders to profoundly reimagine the future of work and learning. That will require re-imagining how postsecondary education should be organized and incentivized to center learners, connect to the world of work, and prioritize socio-economic mobility.

Innovative thinking is required to meet the moment in 2024. That means wading into debates, shifting narratives, and tackling policy and practice changes on topics such as: the continued impact of AI on school and work, ongoing national debates about how to handle student debt, the backlash against DEI efforts in public postsecondary settings, a deepening understanding of the importance of student mental health, the continued politicization of college and university leadership roles, and a nationwide need to train and reskill workers for the jobs of tomorrow.

At College Futures Foundation, the needs and dreams of learners guide us. In a few weeks, College Futures will announce a new strategic framework to focus our efforts in the coming years. We believe that the equitable education system of the future, one that enables every student to achieve their dreams and participate in an inclusive and robust economy, will be realized if we are clear, determined, and active in our leadership and partnership. We want to hear ideas from others who also care about learner opportunity.

I’m dreaming of a not-too-distant future, when news headlines tell of a California where postsecondary education advances racial, social, and economic equity, unlocking upward mobility for generations to come.

I hope you will be an unapologetic dreamer — and a relentless doer — with me.


Eloy Ortiz Oakley
President & CEO
College Futures Foundation