Meet the LARC – LA County’s 19 Community Colleges
Pam Sornson, JD
As an individual school, each of Los Angeles County’s (LAC) 19 community colleges offers its local constituents tremendous resources for building both a satisfying career and a fulfilling life. As a collaboration, however, those resources are multiplied when the collective group of schools – the Los Angeles Regional Consortium (LARC) – combines assets to enhance optimal credentialling streams, develop best occupational practices, and reduce redundancies in courses and programs across the County. As the LARC gets down to business here in 2022, it must clarify its most pressing challenges while building its initial, foundational steps towards regional educational excellence.
The LARC Schools
As a collective, the schools are already organized into 11 ‘districts,’ with the Los Angeles Community College District containing nine colleges – East LA Community College, LA Community College, LA Harbor College, LA Mission College, LA Pierce College, LA Southwest College, LA Trade-Tech College, LA Valley College, and West LA College. The other ten schools encompass a single ‘district’ each – Cerritos, Citrus, Compton, El Camino, Glendale, Long Beach, Mt. San Antonio, Pasadena, Rio Hondo, and Santa Monica college districts.
As the LARC came together during Fall 2021, leadership from all schools joined in conversations to develop the regional organization’s structure, governance model, and foundational projects. One of their starting points was found in the data reported by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation in 2019: “LA Community Colleges at a Crossroads – A market assessment and call to action.” That report suggests that the LARC schools pursue a three-part strategy in their effort to enhance the success of California’s Strong Workforce Program (SWP) within county boundaries:
1: Address Existing Threats:
Address a series of significant threats, including:
declining enrollment numbers,
accommodating a growing population of diverse learners,
revising programs to develop a more work-ready stream of graduates,
developing new programs to attract adult learners new to the higher education system, and
expanding the use of technology to prepare students and graduates for the pace of technological changes in the marketplace.
2: Embrace emerging opportunities:
Embrace a series of opportunities, including:
rebuilding the student journey to provide more, and more relevant, supports from before enrollment through to employment,
enhancing the LA community’s perspective about community colleges through strategic marketing,
linking learners to potential employers by partnering with local businesses, and
developing a cross-institutional collaboration among themselves to build strategic partnerships and enable forward progress on a regional basis.
3: Launch by undertaking ‘enabling’ actions:
Use advanced data analytics to clarify barriers found within the student’s journey,
Use those same analytics to discover learner beliefs about higher education and preferences for pursuing it,
develop a regional labor market partnership to inform curricula and program development, especially for fast-growth occupations that aren’t yet fully developed at the community college level, and
establish a regional entity to provide infrastructure and decision-making capacities on a regional basis. The establishment of the LARC is responsive to this ‘enabling activity.’
Keeping an eye on the data that underscores these overarching strategies will help the collaboration remain on track with its SWP mission.
One of the biggest challenges facing the LARC is the imbalance of resources available to the individual schools within the region. Many of the schools are located in wealthier communities, and students entering those schools typically have more robust support systems to assist them in their educational journeys. Other schools, however, are situated in less wealthy neighborhoods, and many of those students have fewer resources with which to approach their college experience. Finding a balance of regional resources that support each student equally, regardless of their location within the County, will be a challenge to the new organization.
Initial Foundational Projects
As the new year opened, the LARC launched a bevy of initiatives designed to bring its members together to address common concerns and develop common, near-term goals. These initial projects may represent ‘low-hanging fruit’ (as they pursue activities that are already common among the schools), but they also offer a substantial likelihood of early, encouraging success. Among them:
The Regional Industry, Engagement and Employment Pipeline Development – Taking advantage of the resources provided by the LAEDC, this project seeks employers willing to provide internships and other hands-on learning experiences. Additionally, LAEDC members will work with college faculty members to connect needed skills and talents with courses and curricula.
Also engaging with partner UNITE-LA, the LARC is using a targeted ‘universalism’ approach to ensure that typically underserved student populations have access to programs that have often utilized inequitable recruiting methods to screen them out. The collaboration directs its efforts in this project to steer low-income learners towards healthcare and technology occupations and careers.
Using the social innovation methodology of Stanford’s ‘Collective Impact‘ strategy, the LARC’s ‘Faculty Innovation Hub‘ will provide leveraged matching investments with stipends to develop regionally relevant curricula alignment and facilitate faculty convenings.
Raising awareness about the high value of LAC schools began with the launch of the ‘CCLA-19‘ marketing project in 2019. It already provides a ready-made foundation for the LARC’s marketing campaigns as it educates the LAC community on the affordability of LACC programs and the job and career opportunities they support. Activities within the project include both growing enrollments for all the LARC schools as well as creating connections between LARC programs and the businesses that need well-trained workers.
The LARC is also looking to attract pre-college students by connecting high school Career Technical Education (CTE) students with community colleges using ProgramFinder.com. The digital tool connects younger learners with college programs they’re already interested in and facilitates better collaboration between high school and college CTE faculty.
The outstanding effort of the LARC membership to come together, form their teams, and launch new projects collaboratively as quickly as they have is commendable and bodes well for the region. Their continuing work will be a welcome addition as the sixth pillar of Pasadena City College’s Economic and Workforce Development department.
Get the PULSE in your inbox!