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From left to right: Mayor Robert Garcia; LBCC President Eloy Ortiz Oakley; CSULB President Jane Conoley; and LBUSD Supervisor Christopher Steinhauser. Photos by Jason Ruiz.

Mayor Robert Garcia and a panel of Long Beach’s highest-ranking leaders in education hosted a forum on the campus of California State University Long Beach (CSULB) on July 18 where they discussed the future of learning in the city and how to keep the city as a frontrunner in higher education.

The Mayor chose his alma mater as the setting for his first policy address where he lauded the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), Long Beach City College (LBCC) and CSULB for their continued collaboration in the Long Beach City College Promise (LBCP) which helps provide students in the city with access to higher education and pledged his support to keeping the LBCP strong.

“I want to make sure that as mayor, I do everything I can to support this university, our community college and our school district,” Garcia said. “I want to make sure that I focus as mayor on education. I will be your strongest advocate in education as a product of the public education system, as a product of our university, as a product of Long Beach.”

The LBCP, established in March 2008, is an agreement between the LBUSD, LBCC and CSULB that works to establish a pipeline for Long Beach students, helping them to matriculate from grade school to a university education, offering a free first semester at LBCC and even guaranteed admission to CSULB. The program is part of a larger Seamless Education Partnership that was launched in 1994 by local civic leaders to help students progress through the education system and into the workforce.

EdForum2014 01The LBCP has been nationally recognized for its success and even prompted a gathering of state leaders to convene at LBCC last year so they could learn the intricacies of the Promise system to potentially implement it in the cities they serve.

CSULB President Jane Conoley, who hosted the event, talked about how the continued development and innovation at the elementary and high school levels is not only causing the university to receive more applicants from the city but more qualified applicants. She noted that this year, CSULB has 618 freshmen from Long Beach high schools and over 450 transfers from LBCC, with the number of students ready for college-level math doubling and those ready for college-level english classes tripling.

Conoley also addressed CSULB’s continued growth and the recognition it has received nationally as a leader in providing affordable education while still providing valuable degrees. CSULB is a leader in producing artists, engineers and health service professionals and graduated 9,000 students last year, a number larger than most US schools’ entire student bodies.

“You don’t become elite by rejecting 92% of the people who apply,” Conoley said. “You become elite by making a difference in the lives of the students who enter your university and that certainly is our core value here and I know it’s shared throughout the Long Beach College Promise.”

Still, everyone that spoke at the forum, including LBCC President Eloy Oakley and LBUSD Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser, agreed that there is room for improvement in the city’s education system.

Mayor Garcia pointed to the lack of internships available in Long Beach for students to gain on-the-job learning and real-world experience. He referenced Boston as a model for Long Beach, applauding the city for providing its 50,000 public school students with some 10,000 internship opportunities. Long Beach has an estimated 80,000 public school students with only about 1,500 internships available in the city. The mayor hopes to double that number by the end of his first term in office.

“I’ve always been jealous of Boston with 10,000,” Steinhauser said. “And that’s the missing link that we have in our school system. Once our students know what it means to take that academic learning and make it relevant into that world of work… It goes back to job development, it’s about ending poverty.”

Creating more internships could potentially keep homegrown talent from leaving the city after graduating, something that Oakley said the city would benefit from economically.

“It comes down to jobs and it comes down to keeping our human capital in this city,” Oakley said. “We produce great graduates out of the three institutions and we lose economic stimulus every time one of those graduates leaves the city of Long Beach. So we need to keep them here.”

CSULB receives the most applications of any CSU in the state and is second only to UCLA in applicants for public universities in California. One thing that contributes to that number is the quality of instructors that the university employs, an aspect of the university that leaders believe helps attract a healthy volume of quality students. Garcia, who has an extensive background as an instructor including a stint at LBCC and a current position at the University of Southern California, knows how difficult it is for some teachers to survive financially in the city.

EdForum2014 03Among other proposals that he’ll make during his term, including the ones scheduled Tuesday when he addresses the city’s new fiscal year budget, Garcia wants to address providing affordable housing for educators, faculty and staff. He pointed to research that supports the idea that high concentrations of people in that profession are beneficial to the city as they can help to drive down crime and infuse the city with creativity.

“This is not just a benefit to the faculty; it’s a benefit to the city,” Garcia said. “If we were to build affordable housing in downtown Long Beach for faculty, it would transform that neighborhood overnight.”

The mayor’s ties to the city’s public education system started with his own enrollment and gradation from CSULB where he served as the student body president. He talked about the obstacles he faced coming from an immigrant family and the hope that a college education can provide for families in situations similar to the one he grew up in. To him, the college promise is an integral part of what has propelled the city forward as it continues to open doors for students who might otherwise be shut out. The ground-up effort by educators in the city is something that he attributes to making the city great and it’s something that he is adamant about supporting during his time as mayor.

“Our youngsters, most of whom have grown up in sometimes difficult environments and urban environments, and many kids from communities of color are succeeding because of the innovative work that is happening through the superintendent all the way down to the principals and the teachers,” Garcia said. “This school district is one of the reasons I believe we’ve been successful as a city.”

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.