A woman on a video call with her professor in class, preparing for a better career.

New Models of Education Can Attract and Support Underserved Students

The 21st century economy has some paradoxes and problems. College is increasingly necessary and increasingly inaccessible. Millions of people are looking for good jobs, but businesses who desperately need to fill them can’t find qualified applicants. Vital industries are approaching a hiring crisis, but too many workers are “stranded,” unable to reach the resources and support they need to fill those roles.

Calbright was created by the state of California to solve this paradox – to find ways to support “stranded workers” who will in turn be able to transition to good jobs at companies throughout the state. Our 2023 Milestone report shows that we have found a solution: rising enrollment demonstrates that new models of education can attract and support underserved students.

A Free Online Community College Designed For The People Who Need It

Working adults, the economically disadvantaged, and traditionally disenfranchised populations have always had trouble accessing higher education. Despite decades of efforts to make college more accessible, the costs continue to rise and the education gap between white and BIPOC populations persists. Yet during a period when college enrollment has declined across the nation, and in the California Community Colleges system in particular, Calbright’s enrollment increased substantially. As the 2023 Milestone Report notes:

From July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023, Calbright’s student body grew to nearly 2,900 learners, an increase of 167%. During this period, the College also awarded 170 certificates to graduates – the highest annual number in our short history. We anticipate these upward trends to persist and run counter to the long-term enrollment decline in the California Community Colleges system, which has fallen from 1.85 million students in the fall of 20081 to 1.28 million in the fall of 2022.

Equally important, the students enrolling at Calbright are among the populations who find traditional colleges hardest to reach:

  • 90% of Calbright students are adults over 25 (compared to 36% in the CCC system)
  • Over 70% of Calbright students identify as BIPOC
  • Over 30% are parents or caregivers (compared to 10% in the CCC system)

It matters that these populations have colleges specifically designed to meet their needs. As the Milestone Report notes:

Adult learners and students of color have left higher education at some of the highest rates – students are voting with their feet, and it is critical we build systems and institutions, like Calbright, that recognize their unique experiences and are designed around their needs and goals.

That’s what we’ve done.

A Fast and Flexible Model of Education That Works With Students’ Lives 

In an admissions questionnaire, nearly nine out of 10 Calbright students said that the College’s unique model of education made it possible for them to enroll. This is a strong proof of concept that when you design a college that works for traditionally underrepresented populations, they will enroll. 

Specifically Calbright:

  • Is a free online community college, which means cost is no barrier to entry;
  • Has an open admissions system: any Californian who is over 18 and has a high school diploma or equivalent is automatically accepted;
  • Reduces the logistical challenges that come with college – we find ways to say “yes” to students instead of making them adjust to our systems;
  • Has a flexibly paced Competency-Based Education model that allows students to take classes at their convenience, whether that’s first thing in the morning, last thing at night, or during 15 minute breaks at work;
  • Offers fast and career focused certificates in job skills that companies are actively looking for
  • Calbright programs can be completed in less than a year;
  • Free counseling, coaching, and extensive academic support are part of the services provided to all students.



Put these together and they form a model that works for students who are not well served by traditional higher education – a college “stranded workers” will attend because they can attend, and get the support they need when they’re there. 

That’s the Calbright model – and it works.

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