June 28, 2018 at 06:53PM
At my annual state of the city address in the Summer of 2016, I announced that the City of West Sacramento would make the first year of community college free for graduating seniors. By fall of 2017, the first cohort of students had enrolled in the West Sacramento College Promise, providing the first year of community college classes free, empowering them with educational plans that mapped out how to graduate in two years with an associate’s degree, credential, and/or transfer to a four-year university.
Initially, we didn’t have the funding or the partnerships with community colleges, just the vision and drive of our residents to have the youth in our town complete some form of higher education. We knew that high school was no longer enough for success in the workforce. It was through the support and expertise of a network of mayors and elected officials across the country who had already created Promise programs coupled with the will of the public that we were able to make the College Promise a reality for our city.
You don’t need to be a big city to make College Promise programs work. In West Sacramento, which has a population of approximately 50,000 we’ve provided the College Promise to 66 West Sacramentans and have already received applications for 172 students for the fall of 2018. Today, as Mayor and Board Member of the College Promise Campaign, I am proud to release the College Promise Playbook which shows how local elected leaders can build a Promise with energy, innovation, and start-up funding in order to increase college completion rates and, in turn, the competitiveness of their regional workforce.
We all understand the impact higher education has on our neighborhoods and communities. Some of us were the first person in our family to receive a higher education, changing the economic trajectory of multiple generations, while others have seen the impact of college-educated residents returning to our cities to start new businesses, or bringing new skills and talent to an existing industry, increasing our community’s economic development.
We know that having a postsecondary credential is essential to achieving a higher quality of life and long-term career security. The need for education beyond high school, whether it’s an apprenticeship, a certificate, or a college degree will only increase in the future, and by 2020 it is projected that a 65% of all jobs in the United States will require some form of postsecondary education. Never has there been a time in our history when the need for postsecondary education was so high, while the barriers to affordability and accessibility remained so great.
West Sacramento has only been an incorporated city for about 30 years but celebrates more than a 150-year history as a jobs center for the Sacramento Valley, one of the most agriculturally productive valleys in the world. As an unincorporated area, located across the river from Sacramento, the state capital of California, we were the preferred location for manufacturing and industrial uses that were deemed unappealing to the rest of the region. While cities around us spurned construction of an inland port, logistics hubs, and food processing plants, our community embraced our identity as a business-friendly employment hub for the region.
When we incorporated in 1987, however, we sought to sustain our economic competitiveness. While West Sacramento was a major regional employer, residents graduating high school in our town were not being hired into entry-level positions by our local employers. Partially, this was because the makeup of our employers started to change as our city grew. We began to attract more technology, advanced manufacturing, and research companies, particularly in the food and agriculture sector. Our workforce, unfortunately, wasn’t prepared to compete for these newly created entry-level positions that required education beyond a high school diploma and our unemployment rate was disproportionately high relative to our county and the state of California.
In January of 2010, during the height of the economic recession, our unemployment rate was a staggering 15.2% compared to the 13.2% for our county at that same time. Because of the investments we’ve made as a city, supported by the business and nonprofit partnerships we’ve created over the last 18 years in key areas (e.g., early childhood education, integrated college and career pathways, and paid internships with local employers), West Sacramento’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.6%, its lowest level in recorded history. For the first time, we had a rate lower than the rest of our county and the state of California.
The West Sacramento College Promise has been designed with two simultaneous goals: to keep our unemployment rate low for today and tomorrow by ensuring that every West Sacramento resident has the opportunity to complete a post-secondary education and compete for high-demand, high-growth, high-wage jobs while at the same time signaling to employers that West Sacramento is a highly attractive location for business development with access to the region’s most qualified talent pool.
Local governments are best suited to implement College Promise programs and local elected officials are the ones to lead it. Elected officials are the face of our city and the leaders who communities turn to when in need or crisis. We have the trust of our residents and the ear of our business community. Philanthropic organizations know that when we speak, news outlets and community organizations listen because we deliver.
The College Promise Playbook is a blueprint to replicate successful College Promise programs like mine in your city or county quickly and cost-effectively. It covers everything from designing, financing, launching, marketing, and evaluating a Promise program. Together, we can make our cities the best places to raise a family, find quality talent, grow, and ensure that all of our children and future generations have the resources and support they need to complete a postsecondary education!