Riverside, Calif., 2020 Plan Will Raise College Completion Rates

May 14, 2012

by Mayor Ronald O. Loveridge

We recently made two important, and I think defining, announcements for our students in Riverside, California. The first is that Riverside City College (RCC) will guarantee our local high school graduates the opportunity to complete a degree, or transfer, in two years. This comes at a time when our state budget is forcing our community colleges to cut hundreds of classes. The second is that our city, education and business leaders are united in a commitment to raise the number of students who enroll and graduate from college by 2020. Our citywide partnership is called Completion Counts and we have a plan of action to deliver on our promise.

The talent dividend - the long-term economic benefits associated with a more educated workforce - is becoming the best marker of a successful city in the 21st century. The presence of college-educated people explains much of a city's success. In Riverside, a one percentage point gain in college completion would yield an estimated $185 million increase in per capita income.

Our city is home to three universities and a community college. This is our most important characteristic. However, we must also be a community that creates a college-going culture and supports our high school students to become college graduates. In 2010, Riverside was one of four cities to receive a $3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to increase college graduation rates through the foundation's Communities Learning in Partnership initiative, for which NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families serves as managing intermediary.

Our approach addresses key barriers that hinder our students' ability to earn a degree. For example, our high school math and English teachers have joined with college professors to aligncurriculum and lesson plans so that students are ready for college-level work. Students will reap the benefits when they don't have to take "catch-up" courses that don't count towards a degree - saving them time and money.

High school guidance counselors are also working with student advisors at the college level to decide on the best ways to groom students for college. That means students receive the most accurate and up-to-date information about college-prep classes, college admissions, selecting a major, and financial aid requirements.

We are also leading a public awareness campaign to foster a citywide, college-minded culture where college graduation is the educational standard for all youth. That includes working with the chamber of commerce to support local and statewide measures that raise high school graduation standards to ensure college and workforce readiness.

The RCC two-year guarantee is perhaps our most ambitious effort. We will provide our students with priority class registration, a guaranteed seat in math and English classes required for graduation, and frequent assistance from RCC counselors to help them reach their educational goals. This will particularly help our students from Riverside, whom are overwhelmingly the first in their family to go to college.

We are confident that through our collaborative efforts we will raise college graduation rates among Riverside youth. By 2020, our goal is:

  • 90 percent of high school students will graduate (compared to 79 percent today).
  • 62 percent of students will go on to college (compared to 42 percent).
  • 42 percent of students who start at a two-year college will complete or transfer (compared to 14 percent).
  • 72 percent of students who start at a four-year college will complete their degree (compared to 66 percent).

When we made these goals public, we collectively agreed to hold ourselves accountable to create real solutions that our students can count on. We have to do it for the prosperity of our city, our students, and our future.

Ronald O. Loveridge is Mayor of Riverside, California, the City of Arts & Innovation. He is the Chairman of Completion Counts, Riverside's partnership to raise college graduation rates, and is Past President of the National League of Cities. Learn more at www.CompletionCounts.org.