More college graduates needed to boost California economy, report finds

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

A report released Thursday estimates that California will need about 2 million more students with post-secondary degrees to remain economically competitive with other states by 2025.

The report, by California Competes, a group of independent business and civic leaders, projected that the state will need more than 5 million new students with bachelor’s degrees or technical credentials by 2025 to fill job needs.

Currently, the state is on track to have about 3 million such students in the next 13 years, the report said. To bridge that gap, the state’s higher education systems must increase their output of bachelor’s degrees and technical certifications by 4% each year, according to the report.

“We need to provide our young people with the tools, not only to live a good life and be good participants in our state, but to also fuel our economic engine,” said Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, the group chairman.

The report also recommended that the governance of the state’s community college system be redesigned to provide more flexibility to the 72 local districts to best respond to the needs of their individual schools. The colleges also should be more accountable for the number of degrees and credentials students earn.

To that end, the report argues that the community college system office be independent from the governor’s administration in order for it to establish systemwide policy directives and hold individual colleges accountable for meeting goals.

With a growing student base of high school graduates, veterans and unemployed workers, community colleges are essential to the state filling its jobs needs in coming years, said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, president of Long Beach City College.

“There is a lack of clear direction from the state of California as to goals and a lack of flexibility to meet the needs of the current economy,” he said. “The needs continue to mount, and we have not adapted to those changing needs.”

The report also calls on the state to create an independent board to help prioritize higher-education funding and pinpoint areas of need in order to increase transfers, degrees and certificates in the state. Such a board would also be responsible for managing the state’s scholarship programs.