OC Pathways receives $18.1 million grant to pave pathways to career opportunities for students

OC Pathways project

Living in Orange County has never been more expensive.

According to the Self-Sufficiency Standard Report, a livable wage for a person residing in Orange County increased from $17.39 in 2019 to $20.63 in 2021. While Orange County’s economy rapidly adds higher-paying jobs, many residents fail to qualify for these opportunities because they lack the required credentials, licenses or degrees. 

To secure Orange County’s future economy for students, OC Pathways is incorporating an equity lens in preparing students for the local workforce by implementing high-quality programs that offer both career and college credit attainment to help Orange County students thrive and succeed at high-wage jobs in the region. 

OC Pathways, established in 2014 within the Orange County Department of Education (OCDE), is a county-wide consortium that creates work-based learning opportunities for students and empowers educators with 21st-century learning strategies.

On May 26, the Department of General Services (DGS), Office of Public School Construction and the Foundation for California Community Colleges announced the distribution of six awards totaling $108.6 million for the Regional K-16 Education Collaboratives Grant Program, as part of a $250 million investment in the 2021 Budget Act. This program is a key component of a statewide strategy for cultivating regional economies, strengthening education-to-career pathways, and ensuring that education, vocational and workforce programs work in partnership to provide broader access for all to education and employment opportunities.

“We’re creating new regional pipelines — K-12 schools to higher education to the workforce — for California’s students that will prepare our kids for the jobs of the future in their communities,” Governor Gavin Newsom said. “This essential collaboration will help bridge equity gaps and provide more resources to help our students achieve their career goals right in their own communities.”

One of the awards in the amount of $18.1 million will be given to the OCDE-led OC Pathways’ program called Getting to and Through College Career.

“The K-16 Education Collaboratives Grant Program has put OCDE and OC Pathways in a unique position to provide a new standard of student services in Orange County,” said Kathy Boyd, director of career education in OCDE’s Educational Services division. “These career pathways leading to career opportunities for students in their local communities address longstanding equity challenges that our school systems have been working to improve.”

As communities across the state work to transform the public education system from cradle to career — scaling universal transitional kindergarten, expanding after-school programs, improving college access and affordability, and more — the regional collaboratives will serve to marshal action and promote implementation. Along with priorities such as the Community Economic Resilience Fund and Cradle-to-Career Data System, California is building partnerships and structures to ensure policies translate to on-the-ground improvements.

“The Department of General Services is proud to be of assistance in administering this innovative program that will bring together regional partners to better serve all the learners of California, ensuring equitable pathways to meaningful careers,” said DGS Director Ana Lasso. “As the business manager of the state, DGS is excited to see the collaboration, system changes and enhancements that result from timely investment.”

OC Pathways says it will build on its existing initiatives and continue to leverage the regional work and partnerships previously established. The goal is to increase efficiencies and decrease institutional barriers to strengthen career pathways, rigorous and relevant CTE courses, and college credit opportunities for all students. Here are some of the existing strengths that OC Pathways plans to build upon:

  • In 2021, OC Pathways was intentional in extending industry certifications in Orange County and offered more than 60 dual-enrollment community college courses that offer industry certification options for high school students.
  • From 2018 to 2021, OC Pathways saw an increase of about 522 percent in community college students engaging in work-based learning from 3,414 (2018) to 21,256 (2021).
  • In 2021, 25,608 Orange County students enrolled in early college credit courses, which is a growth of 24% since 2018.

The first six awards of approximately $18.1 million each, for a total of $108.6 million, will be going to the following collaboratives (summaries of each collaborative can be found on the Regional K-16 Education Collaboratives Grant Program website):

  • Central San Joaquin Valley: Central San Joaquin Valley K16 Partnership (Fresno-Madera Collaborative & Tulare-Kings Collaborative). The Partnership brings together the Fresno-Madera Collaborative and Tulare-Kings College & Career Collaborative — with partners including the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, State Center Community College District, Fresno State and UC Merced — to develop four education to work pathways in health care, education, business management, and engineering/computing, with goals to increase the number of graduates with postsecondary degrees and certifications in these high-wage disciplines, close equity gaps and economic disparities, and improve graduation rates and time-to-degree across all institutions.
  • North State: North State Together (Shasta Tehama Trinity Joint Community College District). North State Together (NST) brings together partners across the region — including the Shasta-Tehama-Trinity Joint Community College District, Shasta County Office of Education, CSU Chico and UC Davis — to expand educational access, regional support networks and cross-sector partnerships. They plan to increase college and career readiness, create occupational pathway programs in health care and education, and streamline transitions between educational institutions and the workforce.
  • Kern County: Kern Regional K16 Education Collaborative (Kern County Superintendent of Schools). The Kern K16 Regional Education Collaborative seeks to prepare students for the global economy by dismantling long-standing social and economic inequities in the region, removing barriers to student success, and improving educational outcomes. The collaborative brings together partners — including the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, Kern Community College District, CSU Bakersfield and UC Merced — to develop pathways in health care, education and engineering/computing with a focus on fostering inclusive institutions to better serve historically underrepresented students, streamline pathways to degrees and facilitate student transitions, and increase access to resources supporting basic, digital, and financial needs.
  • Redwood Coast: Redwood Coast K16 Education Collaborative (California State Polytechnic University Humboldt). The Redwood Coast Collaborative brings together partners across the region — California State Polytechnic University Humboldt, Sonoma State University, the Humboldt County Office of Education, Redwoods Community College District, UC Davis and ProjectAttain! — to develop a robust college-going culture in the region by building career pathways for education and health care, specifically focused on increasing participation in and completion of A-G courses and improving retention rates in higher education, especially for Native American and socioeconomically disadvantaged students in the region.
  • Orange County: OC Pathways to and Through College and Career (Orange County Department of Education). OC Pathways aims to promote career and college readiness for students in the Orange County region by developing and expanding career education opportunities. This project brings together partners — the Orange County Department of Education, Rancho Santiago Community College District, Coast Community College District, South Orange County Community College District, North Orange County Community College District, CSU Fullerton, UC Irvine and Chapman University — to implement high-quality programs in education, health care, business management and engineering/computing that offer career preparation and college credit attainment by leveraging regional work partnerships, decreasing institutional barriers, providing rigorous and relevant Career Technical Education courses, and college credit opportunities for all students.
  • Sacramento: Sacramento K16 Collaborative (Los Rios Community College District). The Sacramento Collaborative brings together partners throughout the region — including Los Rios Community College District, CSU Sacramento, UC Davis and the Sacramento County Office of Education — to develop and expand career pathways for students in health care and engineering. They plan to invest in structures supporting preparation for college and transitions between educational institutions, develop a regional data sharing system, and provide targeted support to historically underserved students.

For more information regarding OC Pathways’ program, visit: https://ocpathways.com/k-16-education-collaborative/.