Earlier this month, the Cabrillo Education Foundation, the Cabrillo Unified School District and the Pescadero La-Honda School District announced the first college promise program in San Mateo County, called “Coastside Futures” in Half Moon Bay. The program, to be rolled out over the next three years, aims to roughly double the number of high school graduates who complete postsecondary education on the coast over the next decade to 70 percent. The ambitious effort is a collaboration with the school districts, the San Mateo County Community College District and the Cabrillo Education Foundation. As champions and early funders of the work, we are excited about its potential and wanted to share our learning.
First, the coastside is a microcosm of Silicon Valley and the state and has major challenges with college completion in part driven by demographics. Despite pockets of wealth and an average home price of over $1 million, nearly half of the public school students on the coast come from families below the poverty line and nearly a third are English language learners. Many of the kids have to type their essays on their phones and don’t have access to the internet. It is not surprising that many would be the first in their family to go college. With two-thirds of the jobs available when they graduate requiring a postsecondary degree, we are giving them little hope to earn a decent living.
Second, college affordability is an issue, but not the primary one. Creating a college-going culture for all and ensuring everyone is prepared is even more important. The graduation rate in the California Community Colleges for students seeking a degree and who don’t have to take remedial courses is 70 percent. By contrast, less than half the students who take remedial courses ever complete a degree. Ensuring kids are prepared before they get to college is essential.
Third, investing earlier is smarter. The Coastside Futures has the benefit of building off San Mateo County’s Big Lift initiative (a cross-sector program funded in part by the County of San Mateo, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, other private donors and the federal government) — ensuring all kids learn to read at grade level by third-grade so that they can then read to learn. Without this capability, students fall hopelessly behind by middle school and are unprepared to take the high school classes necessary to continue their education. The majority of the Coastside Futures budget is before middle school — preparation is much cheaper and more effective than remediation.
Fourth, alignment is key. One of the most important innovations of Coastside Futures is an aggressive use of the state’s Early College program in collaboration with San Mateo County’s community colleges. By aligning AP classes and other college eligible courses so they also earn college credit, students are not retaking courses with the same content in college. With full implementation, students could graduate from high school with a year or more of college credit — all accepted by every public university in California, including the University of California system.
Fifth, many students don’t access available financial resources for college. The program will invest heavily in college and financial aid counselors in high school to ensure students apply for and access the support they need. Few know that families with incomes below 150 percent of poverty pay no tuition for California public universities. At Stanford University, families earning less than $150,000 pay nothing. Coastside Futures will ensure all students complete financial aid applications then supplement what they need to ensure cost isn’t a barrier.
Finally, it takes a community. The promise is two-sided. Kids promise to work hard and stay in school. The community promises to ensure they have the preparation and resources to get to and through the post-secondary education they need to meet their career goals. Schools, community organizations, colleges, employers, philanthropists and taxpayers are all in and accountable for success.
Investing in kids is smart. Ensuring that every child expects to, and can succeed, is not only right: it is a great investment. The total annual cost of Coastside Futures is less than 10 percent of what the school districts budget today. If only two to three more children a year from the coastside complete college, their lifetime earnings will pay for the program. That is an investment we are proud to make.
Lenny Mendonca retired senior partner of McKinsey and Company and a resident of Montara. Steve Westly is the former California state controller and managing partner of the Westly Group.