Breland: Newsom makes good investment in community colleges, workplace development
Gov. Gavin Newsom outlines his 2021-2022 budget proposal during a news conference in Sacramento in January 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently unveiled a $227.2 billion budget proposal, launching a six-month process that will culminate in the Legislature passing the state’s 2021-2022 fiscal year budget by June 15.

The proposal is a record for California and comes as the state’s economy shows more resilience and a stronger recovery than many analysts anticipated when the economic impacts of the pandemic first began to take hold in early 2020.

The largest system of higher education in the United States, California’s community colleges serve more than 2 million students per year. Community colleges have educated about 80% of the state’s firefighters, law enforcement personnel and emergency medical technicians, as well as 70% of the state’s nurses.

Because of the large number of Californians who attend community colleges and the role they play in workforce development and job training, it is imperative they be adequately funded to lead the state’s economic recovery.

Included in the funding for community colleges is a proposed $250 million in one-time funding for emergency financial assistance, $100 million in one-time funding to support students facing food and housing insecurity and $30 million for mental health services, internet access and computer equipment for students designed to combat the digital divide that exists among students.

While there are still many challenges that institutions of higher education — and their students — will face in 2021-2022, it is a relief to know that a major reduction in state funding will not be one of them, as the proposal includes $36 billion in higher education spending.

This investment was made with the ongoing pandemic in mind and designed to control the cost of tuition and fees, provide students with emergency financial aid, increase transfer opportunities and enhance college-to-career pathways.

Included in the proposed higher education allotment is about $600 million in new ongoing and one-time funding for programs and initiatives at California’s 117 community colleges. The proposal has been lauded by leaders throughout the community college system, including state Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who praised it as one that “puts students first.”

Additionally, the proposal contains $20 million to support faculty professional development, which has been one of the most costly aspects of the pandemic-caused shift to online learning for colleges and universities.

Faculty members who had not previously taught online courses were rapidly trained to meet the rigorous demands required of accrediting bodies and ensure student learning outcomes did not falter during the transition.

Another important priority. Newsom’s budget proposal highlights is the ongoing effort to reduce the cost of textbooks and expand Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) courses and degree programs. Many community college students end up spending more per semester on textbooks — which often cost hundreds of dollars each — than they do on tuition and fees.

By using open educational resources and other materials students can access for free, the total cost to obtain an associate degree or to transfer can be greatly reduced. The governor’s proposal includes $15 million in one-time funds to expand ZTC pathways.

Community college career education programs are uniquely situated to support displaced workers and train the post-pandemic workforce. The time is now to boldly reimagine a workforce system that promotes equitable employment outcomes for everyone, including those new to the workforce as well as displaced workers.

There remains a critical need to build strong connections to apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities that should be imbedded throughout the K-12 educational pipeline.

Because of the pivotal role community colleges must play in our regional and statewide economic recovery, the state’s investment in community college education and workforce development is vital as California continues to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

San José Spotlight columnist Dr. Byron D. Clift Breland is chancellor of San Jose – Evergreen Community College district, which operates San Jose City College, Evergreen Valley College, the Milpitas College Extension and the Community College Center for Economic Development. His columns appear every first Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at [email protected].

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