The Chancellor of the California Community Colleges (CCC), in a new vision statement, has committed to taking a leadership role in partnering across education systems to improve student success in California. The vision statement, endorsed by Chancellor Eloy Oakley and adopted by the CCC Board of Governors, received a great deal of attention in the state upon its release in July, but one of its most ambitious commitments has not received significant coverage—the new core commitment to “lead the work of partnering across systems.” 

The vision statement also urged other state education leaders to work with the community colleges to improve student success: 

“Without strong linkages between K-12 schools and community colleges, the state is limiting access and opportunity for students…The task now is to reverse engineer California’s public education system to make it work better for students, even if that means giving up a piece of turf or control… To improve on measures that require shared effort, the systems themselves need to step up and agree to cooperate.”

As suggested in the vision statement, the colleges’ commitment and invitation to partner spring from the fact that they will need to rely partly on contributions from the other systems to fulfill their new commitments—from academic preparation in K-12 schools for incoming college students to the space necessary in the California State University (CSU) or University of California (UC) systems to accommodate transfer students from the community colleges. In total, the vision statement includes seven new commitments that will guide the colleges in the foreseeable future:

1. Focus relentlessly on students' end goals.
2. Always design and decide with the student in mind.
3. Pair high expectations with high support.
4. Foster the use of data, inquiry, and evidence.
5. Take ownership of goals and performance.
6. Enable action and thoughtful innovation.
7. Lead the work of partnering across systems.

The case could be made that the work to achieve each of the first six commitments can be more student-centered, and potentially more successful, if the seventh commitment is successful. For example, mapping students’ long-term goals (item 1) is particularly relevant for partnering across systems, and there is no way to understand the effects of state investments in such programs as applied pathways and workforce readiness without improved data systems (item 4). Continuing to work on these kinds of issues within system siloes limits the benefits students.

In August, we will publish a brief that details how the current disjointed educational data structures in California prevent educational institutions from understanding how students progress (and fail to progress) across systems. The end result is that no single entity takes responsibility for improving postsecondary educational attainment writ large in California.

At a larger level, the systems lack a mechanism to examine, discuss, and resolve cross-systems issues. For example, if high schools are cultivating pathways for high school students to be prepared in STEM or health sciences fields, are higher education institutions in those regions creating space for those students in classes and majors? Are they considering options such as dual enrollment classes for those pathways programs? Do they have resources to increase capacity and supports? 

In one example of cross-systems alignment, increasing numbers of community colleges have been using high school GPAs for placement into college-level work—to open up access to a larger percentage of students to enter into credit-bearing work and to avoid costly and lengthy developmental education programs. AB 705 would require community colleges to use students’ high school grades, and not rely solely on standardized tests to decide which courses students should take. The CSU’s recent Executive Order 1110 paves the way for high school English and mathematics/quantitative reasoning course grades, high school GPAs, and grades in collegiate courses to be used for general education course placement in that system. These developments honor what students learned in K-12 education, they hold the potential to help a significant proportion of students gain access to college-level coursework, and they hopefully reduce the cost of college and shorten the time it will take students to complete their intended course of study. Let’s hope that these developments are the beginning of new ways in which California’s education systems can work together to improve student learning, engagement, progression, and success.