Tomorrow is my last day at College Futures Foundation, and I have been reflecting on the profound honor it has been to serve California’s talented and diverse students alongside an equally talented and diverse community of grantee partners, staff, and board members.
I am proud of all we have accomplished in the past few years—rising to meet the challenges exacerbated by the pandemic as well as the opportunities presented and advanced by equity-focused education leaders, tireless innovators, substantial financial resources, and significant advances in public policy.
With this in mind, I am also thinking ahead and envisioning what is to come. I’m proud of the progress made in our state, yet I see several significant opportunities ahead:
- We cannot ignore growing concerns regarding the perceived value of a college degree versus its overall cost. These costs are not limited to tuition; they include basic needs, time to degree, and opportunity cost. Students want and deserve navigable educational pathways that connect them to good jobs. To provide this, we and our partners and peers in this work must think big and be bold. Slow, incremental changes will not get us to where we must go if our higher education system is to serve all of California’s students—especially those who face the biggest barriers to success in and after college—and drive opportunity and inclusive economic vitality. Fundamentally, higher education must fully embrace and act upon its social responsibilities beyond admitting and graduating students. In California’s economic environment, taking a holistic approach to ensuring affordable and timely access and success for our low-income students and students of color is imperative.
- The current policy environment is favorable for enacting bold and meaningful changes in and around higher education, advanced by a strong movement of equity-focused champions—many of whom College Futures is privileged to work with, learn from, and support. Venues for addressing regional and systemwide issues and developing strategic solutions abound, including the Governor’s Council for Postsecondary Education and K-16 collaboratives across that state. At the state level, California has articulated a strategic vision for an effective higher education system connected to workforce opportunity, and it has defined the components needed to deliver on the promise. Our Governor has outlined a state level framework with clear graduation goals and metrics, and multi-year compacts with the institutions. The proof of success will be in the experiences and lives of our students. It is up to us and our partners to focus on providing support, monitoring, and accountability for the implementation of these promising reforms.
- Change is certain. Complexity is a given. In such times, and in such a field, we must be guided by clear principles in order to stay true to our purpose. At College Futures, we are student-centered and equity-minded. The lived experiences of students guide us, an appreciation for their talents and dreams inspires us, and a growing understanding of the intersecting challenges they face spurs us onward. Our foundation has come to embrace a specific paradigm for systemic reform: that is, changes must be at scale, system-embedded, and sustainable. Finally, our core values of equity, community, courage, and curiosity ground us every day as we consider new questions.
To all our partners: my sincerest gratitude for your partnership. The work we have done together is nothing short of transformational—for our systems, for our students, and, I believe, for all of us. Our foundation has invested in people and organizations “on the ground” who are leading the charge for change every day. Their efforts are not just important; they are essential.
It takes courage and persistence to build a society that is equitable and just.
In the words of Congressman and legendary civil rights leader John Lewis—a hero of mine: Democracy is not a state. It is an act. It is “involvement, participation, sometimes confrontation and agitation to make sure that we as a nation live up to the divine mission of this nation.” Speaking to the next wave of civil rights activists, he added that to ensure our society is made into a true democracy and not “just a legacy of inspiration,” the torch, “the symbol of our contribution as a people is passed to you.”
For my part, I am thrilled to pass the torch to Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who takes the helm as the next President & CEO of College Futures Foundation on August 1. I mentioned the great progress our state has made, and he has been a key driver of that. He brings to College Futures a passionate dedication to our mission, the energy and ideas to meet the moment, and a track record of strong leadership to ensure that those facing the most formidable barriers can achieve success in college and life.
The work of College Futures and our partners is to realize a system that creates the opportunity for all students—including the low-income and brown and black students who make up the majority of California’s youth—to pursue the future of their dreams through education.
Here’s to participation, sometimes agitation, and always courage, to build the future of our dreams together.
President & CEO
College Futures Foundation