Central Coast K-16 Education Collaborative secures planning grant for six-county region

The six-county Central Coast K-16 Education Collaborative has been awarded a $250,000 planning grant through California’s Community Economic Resilience Fund (CERF) to streamline equitable pathways from high school to postsecondary education and into the workforce.

Spurred by California’s Regional K-16 Education Collaborative Grant Program, educational leaders from Santa Cruz to Ventura formed the Central Coast K-16 Education Collaborative to address the urgent, systemic educational inequities and economic needs in the region. 

“This planning grant is a key step toward addressing systemic educational inequity in the region,” said UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive. “I’m excited to continue collaborating with our educational and workforce partners to seek real change for our communities.”

UC Santa Cruz is dedicated to working collaboratively with a wide range of regional stakeholders from a diverse set of interests to create a more inclusive, equitable, and competitive regional economy. The campus serves all six counties of the Central Coast.

Spanning over 300 miles, the Central Coast region is home to more than 2.5 million people in Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. 

The living costs within the region have increased sharply underscoring the urgent need to expand and diversify employment opportunities.

The one-year planning grant will enable the Central Coast K-16 Education Collaborative to develop a collective impact initiative to address equity gaps along the education-to-employment pathways for historically marginalized students and communities. There will be a special focus on equity, sustainability, job quality, economic competitiveness and resilience.

Next fall, the collaborative will submit an implementation grant application to the Regional K-16 Education Collaboratives Grant Program, a state-wide $250 million investment providing new pathways to career opportunities that addresses long-standing equity gaps for students in their local communities.

This program provides funding to enhance or create collaborative efforts between the University of California system, the California State University system, Community Colleges, K-12 school districts, and workforce partners. This effort is a key component of a statewide strategy for cultivating regional economies and ensuring that education, vocational, and workforce programs work together to strengthen equitable education-to-workforce pathways. 

In the summer of 2022, over 50 K-16 partners from 25 institutions from across the Central Coast CERF region convened to establish the foundation of the Central Coast K-16 Education Collaborative and co-create a successful Phase 2 Planning Grant application that centered around equity and opportunity for students in the region who have faced long-standing systemic and structural barriers to their educational success and persistence as well as representation in high-skill, high-wage, high-demand regional employment. 

UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara pledged early support along with select K-12 school districts, County Offices of Education (COE), CSUs, and community colleges. Partners include Pajaro Valley Unified School District, Ventura County Community College District, CSU Monterey Bay, UC Santa Barbara, and many other K-16 educational institutions, community organizations, and workforce partners throughout the Central Coast.

“The Ventura County Community College District is honored to partner in this K-16 collaboration planning grant which will strengthen our education to workforce pipeline while ensuring the creation of sustainable strategies to address the multi-faceted inequalities in education and employment from high school to college and into the workforce,” said Dr. Cynthia Herrera, Vice Chancellor of Institutional Effectiveness, Enrollment and Advancement for Ventura County Community College. “The identification of interconnected priorities, through cross-sector collaboration, will result in a strategic regional framework, to enhance the students’ journeys toward economic mobility while building the regional economy and meeting the region’s workforce needs.”

During the planning year, the collaborative will establish and adopt an equity-centered vision and problem statement, select occupational pathways and Recovery with Equity strategies to build equitable education-to-workforce pathways within selected sectors, establish measurable goals, and define a continuous improvement framework to measure progress toward goals while informing improvement and fostering learning across the region

As part of these efforts, the UC Santa Cruz Educational Partnership Center (EPC) will be serving as the lead organization, managing the grant funds and meeting reporting requirements. The EPC increases access to higher education for underrepresented students across the Monterey Bay, Pajaro Valley, and Silicon Valley and helps educationally-disadvantaged students in our region reach and succeed in college.

UC Santa Cruz Assistant Vice Chancellor of Educational Partnerships and Chief Campus Outreach Officer Maria Rocha-Ruiz, Principal Investigator, played a leadership role in helping build the region-wide coalition and establishing structures and processes to engage more than 50 K-16 partners. 

“The Central Coast K-16 Education Collaborative will have an opportunity to drive transformational equity centered collective impact work across the region to address long-standing social and economic inequities in higher education and workforce participation and I am honored for the EPC to be an integral part of this collective effort,” said Rocha-Ruiz.

The K-16 Collaborative offers the region the chance to create a new, sustainable engagement process with K-12 schools, districts, and county offices of education and higher education institutions. K-12 families, educators and administrators are key partners. The grant will also unite a broad coalition of K-16 education partners, community organizations, nonprofits and employers. The synergy of this work will be supported by WestEd’s Postsecondary Education & Career Mobility team that brings expertise in facilitation, research, postsecondary access and success, and career pathways to provide critical infrastructure and expertise to the Central Coast K-16 Education Collaborative, facilitating the formation of a strong, unified and sustainable Collaborative.

“This planning grant will strengthen our partnerships, leverage funding, and reinforce the coordination of our efforts to improve equity of outcomes for historically marginalized students and communities such as ours, predominantly Latinx and living in poverty,” said Dr. Michelle Rodriguez, Superintendent of Schools for Pajaro Valley Unified School District. “Our district looks forward to the continued inclusive, collective impact and equity-centered work of the Collaborative's many partners."