Five years after the financial crisis of 2008, California’s economy continues to struggle toward recovery. While some communities have rebounded, urban centers with large minority populations remain saddled with high rates of poverty and unemployment. People of color, particularly young people, desperately need jobs. But to get jobs, they first need access to quality education and skills training. And unfortunately, research shows they are not getting the educational opportunities they need.
The Pew Hispanic Center reports that Hispanics have become the largest minority group on college campuses across the country, with 2 million Latino students enrolled in 2011. But far too many of these students never make it across the finish line. College graduation rates for Latinos continue to lag behind those of other groups.
Why? Many Latinos who seek higher education are not “traditional” students who move directly from high school to college. Often Latinos and other minorities are “non-traditional” students who are older, who work part- or full-time and who are raising families while they study. For many of these “non-traditional” students, the schedule and structure of traditional colleges and universities just don’t work.
While the state’s system of community colleges and public universities meets the needs of many students, other nontraditional students are looking for other academic pathways to a good job and economic security. Increasingly, non-traditional students are turning to private career colleges to pursue their educational and professional goals.
Earlier this year, Santa-Ana based Corinthian Colleges Inc. commissioned research which found that overcrowding at the state’s community colleges is preventing thousands of Latinos from pursuing higher education. The report, “Left Out, Left Behind: California’s Widening Workforce Training Gap,” found that the state’s economy is creating good jobs in growing fields such as management, healthcare and the service industry, but its community college system cannot produce nearly enough graduates with the skills necessary to fill them.
Over the coming decade, the report found, almost 2.5 million Californians will be crowded out of community college programs that lead to career-oriented degrees, diplomas and professional certificates, costing state residents more than $50 billion in lost personal income.
More than any other group, Latinos will be denied the skills training they need to qualify for high-paying jobs. Demand for vocational and career education is skyrocketing among California’s growing Latino population, but community colleges will not be able to accommodate 840,000 Latino students over a decade. In Los Angeles County alone, a lack of vocational education and professional skills will cost Latinos about $8 billion in foregone personal income.
Career colleges can help to bridge this gap. Many “non-traditional” students have trouble succeeding academically traditional institutions. Others have had their college careers interrupted by pressing life issues. Career colleges align their instructional programs with workforce employment demand, providing students with a streamlined route to in-demand jobs.
Founded in 1963, the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) serves communities where the need is the greatest and is committed to the betterment of the California Latino community. We are intimately familiar with the links between career education, employment opportunity and economic mobility. In order to bring about educational and economic parity for all Californians, three things need to happen:
—Latino business leaders must advocate for career education and training, to help address the unique needs of the Latino community.
—State policies must be sensitive and responsive to the educational and vocational nuances of non-traditional students for whom career education can make a direct difference.
—Our State Legislature should support legislation creating the California Higher Education Authority to measure how effectively the postsecondary schools are serving the state’s needs, and make recommendations about improving performance. We urge the inclusion of career colleges in this analysis and their incorporation into the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education.
With California’s changing demographics, access to career education is in everyone’s best interests. We must consider the needs of all of California’s students – both traditional and non-traditional – and develop policies that allow them to pursue careers, achieve financial security and contribute to the state’s economy.
Martin Castro is president and CEO of MAOF, the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation.