From the Executive Director

Community College Center for Economic Mobility: Why

In simple terms, economic mobility means that the next generation is better off than the parent generation. Community colleges support economic mobility and mitigate income inequality. While we know that a strong middle class is associated with better long-term regional economic growth, chronic under-investment across diverse communities aggravates legacies of oppression, stifles economic participation and erodes the middle class. Inequality frays the fabric of our democracy and the American Dream.

Silicon Valley is a powerful economic engine in California, which is the 5th largest economy in the world. The innovation which made Silicon Valley famous has not transferred to the social sector sufficiently to mitigate inequality. In time, the outcomes we will achieve in Silicon Valley to shrink inequality and grow the middle class will demonstrate effective practice for the nation. But, for now, the gap of income inequality has widened. The California Budget and Policy Center reports that greater income inequality is associated with greater difficulty for low income families to climb the economic ladder and greater equity gaps in educational outcomes.

The high cost of living in Silicon Valley triggers out-migration and hinders talent recruitment. Inequality challenges regional planning for transportation, housing and sustainability. Social justice advocates and corporate leaders alike seek to mitigate a perfect storm of disproportionate underemployment and unemployment in communities of color, inadequate educational attainment by the fastest growing populations, unsustainable resource demands, disproportionate incarceration, voter apathy and suppression, and a persistent myth that merit alone matters. Such a myth is aspirational, but it masks the reality that our history, systems and policies accrue benefit to some groups more than others.

Community colleges arguably represent the single most powerful and prevalent tool for social justice, equity and opportunity in the United States. Community colleges provide transformational opportunities for richly diverse students to earn their credentials and positively impact economic mobility. The scale of this opportunity is often surprising even to educators. Among students who completed a degree at a four-year college in 2015–2016, 49% had enrolled at a two-year college in the previous ten years. California Community Colleges serve over 20% of all community college students in the U.S.

In Silicon Valley, a competitive workforce is essential. The importance of community colleges to workforce development and economic mobility is increasingly understood and valued. The Community College Center for Economic Mobility serves at the nexus of economic mobility and workforce development as an expression of the San José Evergreen Community College District’s (SJECCD) values of opportunity, equity, and social justice. Catalyzing economic mobility in our diverse communities is fundamental to the SJECCD colleges, which include Evergreen Valley College and San José City College. The Community College Center for Economic Mobility works to make the complex ecology of opportunity fit together like pieces of a puzzle. When all the pieces fit, we make real the promise of higher education for a better life, economy and democracy.    

William Watson, Ed.D.

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