In this post, we analyze the Governor’s proposal to fund more student outreach regarding college affordability, career pathways, and transfer options at the California Community Colleges (CCC). Below, we (1) provide background on existing CCC programs related to these topics, (2) describe the Governor’s funding proposal and the CCC Chancellor’s Office’s plan to use the funds, (3) assess the proposal and spending plan, and (4) make an associated recommendation.
Chancellor’s Office Provides System Leadership and Oversight. The Chancellor’s Office allocates funds, administers programs, provides technical assistance, and carries out oversight activities across 73 districts and 115 colleges in the CCC system. Over the past several years, the Chancellor’s Office has led a number of systemwide initiatives specifically in the areas of financial aid, career pathways, and transfer options, as highlighted below.
Financial Aid. The CCC system administers several state and federal financial aid programs. The largest CCC-specific program is the Board of Governors fee waiver, a longstanding program that waives enrollment fees for students with financial need. In 2016‑17, CCC began implementing a new state financial aid program (now called the Student Success Completion Grant) that assists financially needy full-time students with their living costs. In the current year, CCC began implementing another new state program, the California College Promise program. Community colleges are permitted to use College Promise funds for a broad range of purposes, including to waive enrollment fees for nonfinancially needy students enrolled full time.
Career Pathways. In recent years, the Legislature has funded several initiatives to improve career technical education (CTE) at CCC. These include efforts to strengthen alignment with industry needs, enhance partnerships with K-12 CTE programs, and improve regional coordination among CTE and adult education providers. In addition, the Legislature recently created a new online community college, which is scheduled to begin providing career training to working adults in late 2019.
Transfer Options. In 2010, the Legislature enacted a law requiring CCC to develop associate degrees for transfer (ADT). Students who complete an ADT are automatically eligible to transfer to the California State University system as juniors. Since developing the ADT, CCC has also entered into new transfer agreements with the University of California and private nonprofit universities, some of which now also guarantee admission and junior standing to students with an ADT.
Chancellor’s Office Oversees Statewide Marketing Campaigns Aimed at Students. The Chancellor’s Office currently has three major marketing campaigns to increase awareness of its initiatives among current and prospective students. These campaigns are: (1) “I Can Afford College,” which covers financial aid awareness; (2) “Career Education,” which covers career pathways; and (3) “A Degree with a Guarantee,” which covers transfer options. Each campaign generally consists of a website, social media marketing, radio and other advertisements, outreach events, and promotional materials. The Chancellor’s Office spends $10.3 million Proposition 98 General Fund annually on these three campaigns combined.
Funding for Marketing Campaigns Comes From Three Programs. The state provides $5.3 million through the Student Financial Aid Administration program for the CCC system to operate the “I Can Afford College” marketing campaign. (The state also funds financial aid outreach through the California Student Aid Commission, as described in the nearby box.) In addition, the Chancellor’s Office may set aside up to 5 percent ($12.4 million) of Strong Workforce Program funds each year for statewide coordination activities related to CTE. The Chancellor’s Office has chosen to use $3 million of this amount annually for its “Career Education” marketing campaign. Finally, the Chancellor’s Office may set aside 5 percent ($23.8 million) of Student Equity and Achievement Program funds each year for state activities related to improving student outcomes. The Chancellor’s Office has chosen to use $2 million of this amount each year for the “A Degree with a Guarantee” marketing campaign. For each of the three campaigns, the Chancellor’s Office chooses a district to serve as a fiscal agent. At the direction of the Chancellor’s Office, the fiscal agent then contracts with an external marketing and communications firm. The Chancellor’s Office works closely with the selected firm to develop campaign strategies and messaging.
The California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) administers two outreach programs for prospective college students across the state. The Legislature created the California Student Opportunity and Access Program (Cal-SOAP) in 1978 to support various college readiness and financial aid awareness activities targeting low-income K-12 students. Since 2008, CSAC has also administered the Cash for College program, which offers workshops that assist high school seniors with financial aid applications. Currently, the state provides CSAC with $7.9 million in ongoing funding to administer Cal-SOAP and $328,000 in ongoing funding to administer Cash for College.
Chancellor’s Office Leads Effort to Provide Comprehensive Assistance to Colleges. Since the state created the CCC Institutional Effectiveness Partnership Initiative (IEPI) in 2014‑15, the Chancellor’s Office has played a significant role in providing professional development and technical assistance to districts and colleges. IEPI’s activities, which include holding regional workshops and sending teams of CCC experts to consult directly with campuses, span a wide range of topics related to student outcomes, fiscal viability, and programmatic compliance. The state provides $28 million in ongoing funding for this initiative.
Governor Proposes $5 Million One-Time Non-Proposition 98 General Fund to Enhance Student Outreach. The proposed funds would be used to launch a new Student Success Awareness Initiative at the Chancellor’s Office. Budget bill language directs the Chancellor’s Office to use the funds to “support colleges in communicating with students information about the California College Promise, college costs, and career and transfer pathways.” The language also specifies that the funds could be used to provide associated professional development to practitioners. The funds would be available for expenditure through June 30, 2022.
Chancellor’s Office Indicates It Would Use Proposed Funding to Improve College Promise Messaging and Integrate Existing Marketing Campaigns. In recent conversations with us, the Chancellor’s Office has articulated a couple of challenges related to its marketing campaigns. First, the variation across colleges in how they have implemented the College Promise program has led to a lack of clarity regarding students’ financial aid options. Second, maintaining separate campaigns for financial aid, career pathways, and transfer options also has reduced coherence in messaging. These three campaigns have separate brands, separate websites, and separate tables at outreach events. To address these challenges, the Chancellor’s Office intends to use the Governor’s proposed funding to (1) develop a statewide message around the College Promise program, and (2) integrate the three existing outreach campaigns into a single, consolidated campaign. The Chancellor’s Office states the funding specifically could cover the one-time cost of research, testing, and combining the three websites. After covering these costs, the Chancellor’s Office indicates it could use the remaining one-time funds for promotional materials, outreach events, and training for community college and high school staff on effectively communicating with prospective students.
Clear Messaging Can Help Students Navigate College. Given the complexity of the higher education system, clear communication can help current and prospective students. Clear messaging is especially relevant at CCC, where many students are the first in their family to attend college and thus may have limited prior knowledge of college programs and resources. Integrating CCC’s marketing campaigns on financial aid, career pathways, and transfer options could provide students with a more coherent and comprehensive message about the resources available to help them achieve their educational goals.
Providing Augmentation for Proposed Marketing Activities Appears Unnecessary. As mentioned earlier, the state provides $5.3 million ongoing for financial aid marketing (currently used for the “I Can Afford College” campaign)—funds that presumably could be used to develop a statewide message around the College Promise program. In addition, the Chancellor’s Office has options for funding the one-time costs of integrating its existing marketing campaigns without needing an augmentation. One option would be for the Chancellor’s Office to redirect a portion of current spending on these campaigns (totaling $10.3 million annually) toward integration costs. Alternatively, the Chancellor’s Office could use some state operations funding it receives from categorical programs to cover these costs. Once the upfront integration costs have been covered, the one integrated marketing campaign could cost less moving forward than the three existing campaigns. In future years, the Chancellor’s Office could consider using freed-up funding for new state-level activities of systemwide benefit.
Proposed Professional Development Activities Duplicate Existing CCC Program. As noted above, the proposed initiative is also intended to provide college staff with professional development related to student communication and outreach. The Chancellor’s Office currently offers similar activities through IEPI. If student communication is a priority for professional development, the Chancellor’s Office or the colleges could incorporate this topic into future workshops or other IEPI activities.
Reject Governor’s Proposal. Although improving messaging, communication, and outreach might help students, the administration has not been able to adequately explain why additional funds are needed for marketing and professional development. We thus recommend the Legislature reject the proposal. As an alternative, we recommend the Legislature direct the Chancellor’s Office to identify options for improving student outreach using existing funds.