I recently participated as a panelist in an informative webinar titled, “The New Realities in Higher Education – A Conversation with Our College and University Leaders” with CSUSB President Dr. Tomás D. Morales, UC Riverside Chancellor Dr. Kim Wilcox, and College of the Desert Superintendent/President Dr. Joel Kinnamon, where we provided insights into how our colleges and universities are contributing to local talent development and supporting future leaders in the midst of global health, economic and civic disruption.
When we talked about admission, enrollment, online delivery and the digital divide, we were talking about access. Our institutions all want to make sure that we have space on our campuses for every local student who wants to obtain a college degree, and they can do so virtually or near their home. Colleges and universities must ensure that not one person, or any group of people, is left behind, and the quality of our online classes is as good as in-person classes, if not better. For those students who are not rich in digital resources, are we giving them what they need in order for them to be successful with online learning.
When cost and value of education was discussed, our community continues to let us know that a meaningful higher education and college degree is still, for many, the only way to gain upward social mobility. The value of a college degree is always high in my world view. As a first-generation college graduate, I know how my education has always benefited me in living my life and pursuing a career. However, economically, the perception of the value of a college degree could go down when cost of attendance becomes more expensive. This raises the question of affordability vs. access. It is not a surprise that all panelists praised the valley for its continued philanthropic support of higher education here in the Coachella Valley.
As much as we say that higher education infuses economic prosperity in the region where an institution is located, I believe that our local employers are our partners on the continuum of the access scale for our students. The flexible workforce expectation from our local employers and workforce development reminds us to continue to refine our educational processes and product design. Traditionally, this would mean academic quality, new course design and program revision. In order for our students to be able to access their future workforce and have a meaningful career, we need to understand what the community wants.
The Coachella Valley is a place for higher education. I would not have understood what that meant if I had not worked at the CSUSB Palm Desert Campus for nearly two years, if I had not had numerous conversations with our local leaders on higher education and economic development, and if I had not participated in many of the valley’s events and meetings on a better educated workforce. It is not only money people donate, it is not only talk, but action. People care about this beautiful place we call home and they care about the generations of people who live here. There is a collective and powerful vision for the economic, social and cultural prosperity of the region.
I know that our region will continue to thrive, which gives me confidence that the PDC will continue to grow. We are poised to play a vital role in the valley as our graduates lead and contribute to the post-pandemic business recovery and future prosperity of the region.
At CSUSB, We Define the Future!
Jake Zhu, Ph.D.
Dean, CSUSB Palm Desert Campus