Central Coast K-16 Education Collaborative receives $18.1 million grant to revolutionize student pathways and bridge equity gaps

The Central Coast K-16 Regional Collaborative has been awarded an $18.1 million, three-year grant through California’s Community Economic Resilience Fund (CERF) to establish new or expand existing pathways for career opportunities and to address long-standing equity gaps for students across the region. 

The newly awarded funding will propel a data-informed and equity-centered implementation year. During this phase, the Central Coast K-16 Regional Collaborative will work closely with regional partners to bring about transformative changes, dismantling structural barriers and creating equitable education-to-employment opportunities. 

“This grant will enhance educational pathways throughout our six county Central Coast region and strengthen UC Santa Cruz efforts to build robust bridges between our educational programs and career opportunities, ensuring that our students are well-prepared for the demands of the job market,” said UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive. “We are excited to expand our commitment to providing a comprehensive and relevant education for the benefit of both our students and the California economy."

UC Santa Cruz Assistant Vice Chancellor of Educational Partnerships and Chief Campus Outreach Officer Maria Rocha-Ruiz will serve as Principal Investigator for the award, following a one year planning effort across six counties with more than 50 collaborating institutions.   

The Central Coast K-16 Regional Collaborative, established in 2023, is a collective impact initiative of K-12, Community College, California State University, University of California, and industry partners who are coming together to address long-standing educational and economic inequities in the region. 

The collaborative spans six counties — Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. UC Santa Cruz, Cabrillo College, UC Santa Barbara, and the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, provide leadership and function as the operational backbone for the collaborative. 

This work is 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 Regional Collaborative.

The collaborative plays a pivotal role in a statewide strategy, aimed at fortifying regional economies, refining education-to-career pathways, and ensuring that education, vocational, and workforce programs collaboratively widen access to education and employment opportunities for the region’s historically marginalized students. 

The collaborative’s efforts span from early childhood education to adult learning, with a steadfast commitment to promoting college and career readiness as a cornerstone of community growth and vitality.

"I firmly believe that a robust K-16 collaborative initiative in Central Coast California is the key to unlocking the full potential of our region's educational ecosystem,” said Michael Gutierrez, Hartnell College Superintendent/President. “By bridging the gap between K-12 schools, community colleges, and universities, we empower students with a seamless pathway to success, ensuring that every learner has the opportunity to thrive and contribute to our community's growth and prosperity." 

This program provides funding to enhance or create collaborative efforts between the University of California system, the California State University system, California Community Colleges, K-12 school districts, and workforce partners. It represents a key component of a statewide strategy to bolster regional economies and ensure that education, vocational, and workforce programs work in harmony to strengthen equitable education-to-workforce pathways.

UC Santa Cruz's outstanding track record in developing innovative programs and initiatives, closely aligned with the state's workforce requirements, positions the university as a prime contender for the "More Jobs, Better Careers" program. With this grant, UC Santa Cruz continues its mission to propel regional economic growth and success by equipping students with the skills, knowledge, and opportunities necessary for long-term career success.

"Our collaborative efforts prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront of our decision-making,” said Dr. Consuelo Hernandez-Williams, Associate Superintendent, Student Services, Ventura County Office of Education. “This commitment also guarantees that career education is closely aligned with the demands of the job market, ensuring students have straightforward and smooth paths to both postsecondary education and a successful career." 

UC Santa Cruz is among the select institutions benefiting from this substantial funding, aimed at bridging the gap between education and employment prospects while creating sustainable pathways for students pursuing fulfilling careers. The grant highlights UC Santa Cruz's dedication to providing students with a well-rounded, career-focused education, bolstering its role as an educational leader dedicated to preparing students for the ever-evolving California job market.

The UC Santa Cruz Educational Partnership Center (EPC) in the Division of Undergraduate Education will serve as the fiscal agent and operational lead for this initiative, in partnership with the Student Success and Equity office in the Division of Student Affairs and Success, which includes the Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) team.

“The strength of this initiative lies in the unity of our coalition partners,” Principal Investigator Rocha-Ruiz emphasized. “With educators, community leaders, and industry experts working together we have an incredible opportunity to align our shared goals and forge lasting connections to make transformative, equity-centered change across the region. Together, we will make sure every student in our region has access to the education, training, and resources they need to transition into a rewarding career."