July 19, 2021
New America's higher education team recently published a set of federal, state, and institutional recommendations for higher education as the United States enters a new phase of the pandemic and economic recovery. This blog post offers insight into one state's effort to create a more inclusive and resilient future for its public higher education system.
It all happened so quickly.
At the very beginning of March 2020, Californians were just beginning to learn about a new and dangerous disease known as COVID-19. On March 4, Governor Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency, and on March 19, he issued the nation’s first stay-at-home order. By the end of the month, our college campuses — normally, bustling hubs of activity — were almost completely empty.
Like much of the country, we were all in crisis mode. But our state’s higher education leaders and I knew that it would not last forever. We asked ourselves: What can and should higher education look like on the other side of the pandemic? How can we ensure that the pandemic — which has disproportionately impacted communities of color — does not stop students of color from getting a college education? And, in a world of climate change, wildfires, power outages and pandemics, how can we develop a higher education system that stands the test of time?
We did not have the answers to these questions, but we wanted to find out. So last summer, at the height of the pandemic, the Governor’s Council for Post-Secondary Education convened the Recovery With Equity Taskforce — a groundbreaking effort that brought together institutions, advocates, students and national thought leaders to chart a post-pandemic, equity-focused roadmap for higher education.
After months of meetings and extensive stakeholder engagement — including dozens of interviews with ordinary college students — the Taskforce released its final report, featuring 11 recommendations, in February 2021. In developing these recommendations, the Taskforce put equity, simplicity, cultural competency and belonging at the center of its systems redesign.
The recommendations were divided across the following four guiding principles:
- Fostering Inclusive Institutions: Institutional cultures and approaches to teaching and learning that work for all learners, especially those left behind.
- Streamlining Pathways to Degrees: An integrated statewide system for admission and transfer to provide clear, easy-to-navigate pathways to degrees.
- Facilitating Student Transitions: High-touch, high-tech guidance and improved academic preparation for college access and success.
- Simplifying Supports for Student Stability: Resources and structures packaged and simplified to help students meet basic, digital and financial needs.
Since February, we have shared our report with higher education institutions and stakeholder groups throughout California, and we have been immensely heartened by the support that this equity-centered framework has received. We have also taken steps to turn the report into reality — most notably, by allocating $250M in California’s 2021-22 budget to create regional K-16 collaboratives that must implement many of the recommendations.
While there is so much more to do, I am deeply proud of the Recovery With Equity Taskforce’s dedicated work and thoughtful leadership. I invite other states and federal policymakers to not only explore the recommendations we have developed, but to also consider convening similar working groups, committees or taskforces together to critically re-examine higher education systems with an equity lens.
The COVID-19 pandemic will, undoubtedly, be a turning point for higher education. But it is on us to ensure that the future of higher education is more promising than ever for all of our students.