Community colleges are the engines for economic recovery, as they are an investment in California’s present and future. The 21st-century labor market requires individuals with some postsecondary education. Given this reality, coupled with the significant impact of COVID-19 on women and underserved communities, there are many academic pathways that provide the specialized training required to serve the needs of both student job seekers and local industries in search of skilled workers.
It is this dynamic that makes community colleges so critical at this point in our history. Ventura County’s community colleges address the diverse needs of our constituency, local industries and, most importantly, our families.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected women, low-skilled workers, communities of color and those between the ages of 35 and 44. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, women constitute 45% of California’s workforce and experienced 53% of the job losses resulting from the pandemic; Latinos are 38% and 50%, respectively. While 35- to 44-year-olds are 42% of the workforce, they experienced 45% of the job losses.
Higher education offers a path to an equitable recovery. Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura colleges are positioned to provide flexible and meaningful solutions for the immediate challenges that our community faces.
The irony is that community colleges, the institutions so critical in rebuilding and revitalizing communities, are experiencing enrollment declines as students deal with layoffs, conflicting demands of parenting and navigating remote schooling. Many adults intend to enroll in college but battle self-doubt and are hesitant to pursue additional education. Enrollment declines are pronounced among students of color and older students.
Adult learner programs
Programs geared for adult learners, such as Moorpark College’s Program for Accelerated College Education (PACE), are solutions to the employment and educational challenges many people face, especially during the pandemic.
Designed for busy adults, PACE enables students to complete an associate degree in business, early childhood education, computer science, general studies and psychology in approximately two years. Most courses are either 100% online or a hybrid format (some online but also include some face-to-face meetings on Saturday mornings). When admitted, students receive a two-year course sequence and a guarantee that courses will be offered to facilitate timely completion. Students can also access a wide range of student support services, including financial aid, tutoring and counseling.
The PACE program serves a diverse population of adult learners, many of whom are working parents. In fall 2020, a majority of the students were women, with an average age of 31. Of the students, 38% attended full time and 50% were Latinx.
Since its launch in 2019, PACE enrollment has nearly quadrupled, and now represents 3.3% of Moorpark College’s student population.
The data suggests PACE is working as designed, allowing older students to enroll full-time at much higher levels than would historically be possible.
What fuels this success and how can all colleges replicate this model to support returning adults?
Two things: A structured guided path so students know which courses to take every semester and a case management approach. Students need to receive continuous communication about program registration and milestones. They also need to know of no-cost college resources to help them succeed, such as tutoring, mental health services and career advisement.
In the PACE program, each student has a dedicated counselor who can assist them in completing Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and scholarship applications. Undocumented students can get help in completing the California Dream Act application and AB540 forms. In addition, staff can also write letters of reference.
On completing an associate degree, adult learners who graduate from one of the District’s colleges — Moorpark, Oxnard or Ventura — have the option to pursue a bachelor’s degree at one of our transfer partner universities with programs tailored for busy adults, including CSU Channel Islands and California Lutheran University.
With PACE, and programs like it, adult learners can earn while learning and providing for their families. This helps them fight against a future in poverty and charts a path toward a post-COVID Ventura County economy.
For more information about the Moorpark College PACE program, visit https://www.moorparkcollege.edu/departments/student-services/pace.