California’s Community Colleges Lie at the Center of its Economic Future

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

February 15, 2022

While still reeling from the chaos of the past two years, many Los Angeles County (LAC) residents have a growing awareness of the economic opportunities emerging from the fog caused by the pandemic, social unrest, environmental stressors, and other community upheavals. Some may find that their current occupation now offers new avenues for career development; others may be searching for new work after their previous employer closed or downsized. No matter what their precise situation may be, however, their local LAC community college has the resources they need to refresh or upskill their talent or provide whole new opportunities for education and training.      

A newly established regional consortium of LAC’s 19 community colleges – the LARC – is strategizing its collective assets to best serve its core constituents, LAC’s college students, adult learners, and business community. The project flows from the California Community Colleges Chancellors Office (CCCCO), the coordinator of the efforts of all 116 California community colleges. Several statewide initiatives impact the LARC’s work, and all are directed to providing students and their future employers with a well-trained, talented, and thriving workforce.  


Many Trajectories = One Strategy

Ultimately, the goal of the CCCCO is to ensure that state and private investments in higher education are appropriately managed and return the desired outcome: a well-trained workforce that meets the needs of the economy’s many businesses and industries. That coordination effort is complicated, however:

There are 1.8 million students enrolled in California’s community colleges (CCC) every year, each of whom is pursuing their individual educational path and career goal. Every student expects to receive the resources and guidance they need to succeed both at school and in their desired career or occupation. 

Together, the schools offer 200+ Career Education programs and 15 Bachelor’s degree programs (in conjunction with the State’s UC and CSU universities). Many students begin their college education at a CCC then finish at or move through a four-year university to their final educational destination. 

Every individual school engages with its local and regional businesses and industries, seeking valuable inputs to partner with its academics. Work-based learning and internship opportunities and on-site learning situations such as field trips and guest lecturers offered by neighboring companies facilitate upskilling educational options for learners. School-based workforce training provides an inexpensive and convenient venue for upskilling already employed staff. The schools also reach out to industry professionals to enhance course curricula and contribute to program decision-making. 

The CCCCO coordinates the efforts of nine administrative divisions to manage the multiple inputs, outputs, resources, and demands generated by the schools and California’s economic, governmental, and industrial complex:

college finance and facilities planning

digital innovation and infrastructure

educational services and supports

government relations

institutional effectiveness

internal operations

marketing and communications

its legal office (general counsel), and

workforce and economic development.           

While all these divisions are critical assets to the running of the CCC system, two divisions are getting enhanced attention in light of the upheavals that have occurred in the past two years; institutional effectiveness and economic and workforce development. 

The Institutional Effectiveness Division

The Institutional Effectiveness Partnership Initiative (IEPI) performs the work of this division. This collaborative of statewide CCC professionals works to improve the impact of the community college in its local and regional areas. It has two primary functions: 

to ensure that each school fulfills the mandates established by federal and state funding contracts, and

to demonstrably improve student success metrics by

eliminating barriers that prevent learners from enrolling in or completing their courses, and

producing higher numbers of graduates across all fields of study.     

The IEPI oversees the professional development of CCC teaching staff, ensuring that what they teach connects with the jobs their students want and the workforce their community needs.    

The Workforce and Economic Development Division

This division oversees the connection between CCC students and their local and regional employer base. By devising and instituting flexible workforce training and career pathways that respond to both student interest and industry demand, the CCC fulfills its mandate to both: graduates find the future they want (either a job, career, or entry to their next educational level), and businesses find the trained and talented workers they need to maintain and grow their market share.  


The Vision for Success

Ultimately, the work of the LARC, each of its individual schools, the CCCCO, and the CCC system itself is to fulfill California’s Vision for Success (V4S) mandate. The V4S envisions a bright economic future for the state, where:

every Californian who wants a job will have the training they need to attain the position they seek,

every business that needs employees will find the well-trained workers it requires,

every industry that seeks to expand through innovation and development will find the highly qualified businesses and employees it needs to pursue those goals, and  

all California residents will benefit from the enhanced state economy that a thriving industrial base engenders. 

As a strategy, the V4S pursues seven core commitments, each of which informs the work of the CCCCO and each of its CCCs:

      1. To focus relentlessly on each student’s individual goals;
      2. To decide on and design programs that serve student’s needs;
      3. Encourage high achievements through the provision of high-level support;
      4. Use data, inquiry, and evidence to drive decisions and strategies;
      5. Own its own goals – ensure that the CCC system builds its success on the success of its students;
      6. Embrace innovation and enable action to pursue it, and 
      7. Lead the partnerships that evolve through these processes.  

For three years, the CCCCO has focused on achieving these goals while also addressing the barriers that impede student progress, such as racial, financial, and social disparities. By keeping these core commitments forefront in its actions, the CCCCO is both fulfilling its mandate to the State of California and also addressing the needs of each individual student that crosses a CCC school threshold.  

California’s community colleges represent the hopes and dreams of the State’s future. Working together with LA County’s industrial network, all its collaborative business agencies, and its local and regional think tanks and governments, the schools play an integral part in the growth of the State’s economy and the well-being of its population. With these teams in place and working together, there’s no reason why California can’t continue to maintain its status as a global health-and-well-being beacon and leader.  


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