Enrollment in community colleges such as City College of San Francisco tends to increase during recessions. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Community colleges will be essential to California’s recovery

By Jenny Worley and Shanell Williams

When the shelter-in-place order is finally lifted, millions of Californians will be seeking employment in a drastically different economy. Some workplaces will not survive; others will be profoundly changed or take years to recover. In any scenario, California’s 114 Community Colleges will be crucial to our state’s recovery.

You can already see evidence of this at City College of San Francisco where fashion and design students have volunteered to help make desperately needed face masks for health care professionals, and our advanced nursing students have petitioned the governor to temporarily relax certification requirements so they can assist on the front lines against COVID-19.

“As a pharmacy technician at Kaiser South San Francisco I’m seeking to advance my education and move ahead in my health care career,” said Maricela Gonzalez. “The City College Health Education Associates Degree I am working towards now will help me provide the best patient care and meet the educational requirements that we expect from our health care professionals today.”

Maricela is absolutely right. Gov. Gavin Newsom pointed out recently that community colleges “are keeping all of us safe, because they are the backbone of our training in the State of California. By some estimates, 70% of our first responders … are trained through that community college system, and they’re doing heroic work in this state.”

In addition to training our first responders, community colleges provide a wealth of job training and higher education opportunities for working-class students, opportunities that are both affordable and accessible. On our campuses, health care and paramedic students are trained in real-world settings, laid-off workers are retrained in new fields, and workers learn skills required for new green jobs. Career and technical education helps Californians enter a wide variety of careers in public service, health care, hospitality, the building trades, and more. Programs such as welding provide high-paying jobs to students within a relatively short time frame.

Currently, there are over 2.1 million students enrolled in the community college system. We know from experience that during a recession, California workers enroll in community colleges in droves. We must ensure that our community college system is up to the task of ensuring a robust economic recovery. Our programs must be funded and given the resources that they need to provide a high quality education.

State funding for public education has not met the demand for many decades, particularly in high-cost areas like San Francisco. The state funding formula for our colleges disadvantages many vital programs, including programs that close equity gaps such as African American Studies, Latin America and Latino/a Studies, and LGBT Studies. We must ensure that all programs are funded and given the resources that they need to provide a high quality education for all.

Community colleges must be put front and center in any recovery plans. And just as San Francisco and California did in our response to the COVID-19 crisis, States and municipalities must not wait for the federal government to act; we must work quickly to fund our community colleges to help California recover from this crisis.

We believe that California has what it takes to recover from this recession in a way that builds equity, addresses long standing poverty, and helps ordinary people find their footing again. Community colleges do this during boom times and bust. We are ready to be part of a New Deal for California.

Shanell Williams is president of the Board of Trustees for City College of San Francisco. Jenny Worley is president of the American Federation of Teachers local 2121 – City College of San Francisco Faculty Union.

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