In summary

Here’s why investing in programs to promote postsecondary education is necessary to meet California’s future workforce needs.

By Julian Cañete, Special to CalMatters

Julian Cañete is president and CEO of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and a member of ReadyNation, California’s business leaders network, canetej@cahcc.com.

As we look toward rebuilding California’s economy from a pandemic-induced recession, we also need to have an eye toward building up our future success. 

One critical element is equipping our youth with the skills and credentials they need to be competitive in the future workforce. It’s estimated that by 2025, 60% of American adults will need a credential beyond high school to match the growing skills demand in the workforce. In California, 51% of all adults have a credential beyond high school, placing us behind 23 other states and the District of Columbia. This means we still have a lot of work to do to put our youth on a path to succeed in the future economy. 

The California office of the national nonprofit ReadyNation, of which I am a member, just released a report that makes the case for why investing in evidence-based programs, specifically dual enrollment, is necessary to meet California’s future workforce needs. It’s widely known that a postsecondary degree impacts social mobility and long-term earnings. 

In California, for example, adults with an associate’s degree earn about $8,000 more a year, while those with bachelor’s degrees earn more than $30,000, in comparison to adults with a high school diploma. And yet, college participation rates are lower among students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. Addressing deep educational inequities and ensuring our state’s future success requires us to invest in postsecondary pathways for every single one of our students. 

Dual-enrollment programs are a key element to tackling this issue of educational inequities. These programs, which occur in various forms – Early College High Schools, Middle College High Schools, and College and Career Access Pathways Partnerships – offer tuition-free community college courses that high school students can take to receive both high school and college credit. 

Participation in these programs is linked to many positive outcomes, including increasing high school graduation rates, strengthening persistence rates in postsecondary education and making higher education more affordable in the long run. Still, similar to college participation rates, students of color and students from low-income backgrounds are underrepresented in dual-enrollment programs in California. 

This issue matters to me as the president of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and as a member of ReadyNation. The California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce is the largest regional ethnic business organization in the nation, representing the interest of more than 800,000 Hispanic business owners in California. The sustained success of those businesses depends in large measure on cultivating our diverse and innovative talent pipeline by increasing access to postsecondary opportunities for all of our students. 

Several ways to support and invest in dual enrollment as a postsecondary gateway for underrepresented students include: increasing dual-enrollment access, by setting statewide benchmarks for dual enrollment that also reflect the demographics of local communities, enhancing data reporting to help students, parent, and state and local governments make informed decisions on their investments, and increasing broadband access, to ensure equitable access to distance learning for all students, particularly in the age of COVID-19. 

Additionally, the business community can take a more active role in establishing partnerships with community colleges and creating opportunities for real-work experience through internships and apprenticeship programs. These types of investments, as our 16-year-old California A Path to Success (CAPS) program has demonstrated to me, hold the biggest returns when it comes to increasing equity in the workforce.

Building stronger postsecondary pathways, specifically through dual enrollment, sets us up for a stronger economy and future workforce where everyone can thrive. I invite business leaders and legislators to join me in advocating for increased investments in dual enrollment and other postsecondary pathways programs, specifically those with workforce development elements. Together, we can continue rebuilding California and ensure a pathway to success for all of our future generations. 

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Julian Cañete has also written about a ban on flavored tobacco is a half-hearted approach to protect youth and why small businesses need financial relief.

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