California Community Colleges Building the Workforce of Tomorrow

Oct 29, 2014Rachel Kanakaole

A new program offering career-focused bachelor's degrees at California Community Colleges could begin to shift the combined higher education and employment crises in the state.

"Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom." George Washington Carver

A new program offering career-focused bachelor's degrees at California Community Colleges could begin to shift the combined higher education and employment crises in the state.

"Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom." George Washington Carver

Living in a society where possessing a college degree is key to securing a well-paying job, the opportunity and access to obtain those degrees is crucial. As students strive to build a better standard of living for themselves and their communities, policy makers and higher education advocates have been stuck with the strenuous task of finding more creative and impactful solutions to educating people. In an era of high demand yet seemingly limited supply, class offerings at the university level in California have become increasingly scarce, leaving it to community colleges to increase their role in educating the workforce of tomorrow.

Historically, community colleges are known for offering two-year degrees and certificate programs to students who are looking to quickly enter the workforce. While there is a transfer student population planning to transition to a four-year university, that is not their widely known purpose, at least not in California. According to the Vision Statement posted on the website of the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, community colleges are designed to "provide access to lifelong learning for all citizens and create a skilled, progressive workforce to advance the state’s interests." In the advancement of this mission statement, Governor Jerry Brown has just signed into law a pilot program allowing certain community colleges to offer a bachelor's degree program for courses not currently offered at the California State University (CSU) or University of California (UC) level.

Senate Bill 850, drafted by Senator Marty Block from San Diego calls for selected districts to develop a pilot program to offer a bachelor's degree program beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, and ending in 2022-2023. It is the intention of the pilot program to offer degrees in courses not otherwise available at traditional four-year institutions, focusing on more direct, career-driven programs such as dental hygiene or radiology. According to the text of the bill itself, the intention is "to produce more professionals in health, biotechnology, public safety, and other in-demand fields." Advocates of the bill stress that the pilot program is not trying to compete with the UC or CSU systems, which is why it was tailored to specific fields. In an attempt to keep costs affordable for students, pricing for classes in the program are capped at the rates offered by CSUs. Also, in order to prevent money from the Board of Governors (BOG) waiver from being shifted away from students still obtaining the traditional two-year degrees and certificates, the bill calls for students enrolling in the pilot program to apply for a Free Federal Financial Aid Application or California Dream Act application in lieu of a BOG waiver.

The most promising aspect of this bill is its mission to fill the gap between employers who need workers, and workers who need employers to provide jobs. It is specifically outlined in the bill that districts must "identify and document unmet workforce needs in the subject area of the baccalaureate degree to be offered and offer a baccalaureate degree at a campus in a subject area with unmet workforce needs in the local community or region of the district." The districts have an added responsibility to strategically plan which BA programs to offer in order to most beneficially serve the surrounding community. While we won't know the impact this law will have on California Community Colleges just yet, considering the fact it passed with a unanimous vote, the least we can say is our representatives believe there is some positive change to be made.

While this program is nothing brand-new, with colleges in twenty-one other states already offering BA degrees in similar areas described in the bill, it is new to California, and has the potential to begin to shift the dynamic regarding education and workforce needs across the state. Florida is a great example of a state that allows community colleges to offer BA degrees. Educators in Florida saw enrollment in community college BA programs quadruple in a period of five years. Currently, twenty-five of their twenty-eight community colleges offer BA degree programs. This just goes to show, while SB 850 is by no means the end-all solution to the crisis affecting the higher education or employment systems in California, it is a step forward in the direction of progress for students and workers everywhere.

Rachel Kanakaole is the Chapter Head of the San Bernardino Valley Community College chapter of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and one of the New Chapters Coordinator for the Western Region.

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Daily Digest - October 20: Charity Never Helped Every Person in Need

Oct 20, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Iowa’s Tea Party Disaster: Joni Ernst’s Shocking Ideas About the Welfare State (Salon)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Iowa’s Tea Party Disaster: Joni Ernst’s Shocking Ideas About the Welfare State (Salon)

Elias Isquith references Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal's Democracy Journal article on voluntarism to explain why Ernst is so wrong about the place of charity in the social safety net.

Policymakers Slowly Acknowledge What Marketers Have Known for Years: Millennials Exist (Fusion)

Emily DeRuy reports on Millennials Rising, quoting Roosevelt Institute Vice President of Networks Taylor Jo Isenberg on why Millennials feel disconnected from policymaking.

Amity Shlaes: If Being Wrong About the Economy Is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right (NY Mag)

Jonathan Chait responds to Amity Shlaes's defense of a 2010 letter warning the Fed about inflation that never came. He points out the need to balance that risk with the reality of unemployment.

Rising Inequality: Janet Yellen Tells It Like It Is (New Yorker)

John Cassidy discusses the importance of the Federal Reserve Chair's Friday speech, which questioned whether rising inequality threatens American values of opportunity.

Amazon’s Monopsony Is Not O.K. (NYT)

The current fight between Amazon and Hachette proves that Amazon is abusing its power, writes Paul Krugman, who compares Amazon's business practices to Standard Oil.

The Epic Struggle Over Retirement (AJAM)

Susan Greenbaum says that allowing Wall Street to attempt to fix pensions by turning them into defined contribution plans managed by Wall Street would be disastrous.

Workers Bring $15 Hourly Wage Challenge to Walmart (The Nation)

Michelle Chen reports on recent demonstrations by Walmart workers fighting for a better workplace. Walmart's willingness to "end minimum-wage pay" isn't enough to bring workers out of poverty.

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At NextGen IL Conference, Young People Set the Agenda for Their State

Oct 7, 2014Julius Goldberg-LewisDominic RusselRachel Riemenschneider

At the NextGen Illinois conference, Campus Network leaders found a policy space shaped entirely by young people.

At the NextGen Illinois conference, Campus Network leaders found a policy space shaped entirely by young people.

Last Saturday, the Midwest Regional Team of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network met in Chicago to attend the NextGen Illinois conference, the culmination of months of discussion, caucuses, and ideas from around Illinois. NextGen IL, an initiative led by the Campus Network and Young Invicibles, is working to bring young adults in Illinois together to shape a youth policy agenda for Illinois. What set NextGen apart from so many other conferences was that its content, agenda, and execution were a direct outcome of power and coalition building among Millennials. NextGen’s attendees included high school students, college students, and graduates; they were organizers, activists, and policy wonks of every kind. Throughout the day, attendees were able to vote on a slate of statewide policy proposals that were the product of the dozens of caucuses that took place over the previous few months. Young people had the opportunity to shape the outcome of the conference and take ownership of their ideas.

One common theme that resounded through the day at the NextGen IL conference was that young people are capable of making a difference in their communities. We all have the knowledge, ability, and passion to make real change. This was thoroughly underscored by the number of young people and students that were panelists throughout the day. Each breakout session featured professionals working in the field, as well as Millennials already working to change the landscape. Whether discussing environmental policy or restorative justice, the young panelists were just as able to engage their audience in a variety of statewide policy issues.

The breakout sessions gave the audience a picture of the issues being addressed on the front lines of the progressive political fight, but the plenary sessions gave us a chance to hear from the elected officials who have the power to turn our ideas into action. Will Guzzardi, a 27-year-old candidate for the Illinois House of Representatives, and Amara Enyia, a 31-year-old running for Mayor of Chicago, both spoke about how young people need to step up to make a difference. They both referenced a common realization many young adults have about growing up. When you’re young, you are told to defer to those in charge, trust your elders, and wait your turn. These candidates stressed that in order to be taken seriously and have our issues adequately addressed, our generation must step up and realize that while our parents and grandparents have a lot to teach us, they don’t have all the solutions. This realization may be scary, but it is also empowering: if no one actually has all the answers, young people have the opportunity to create just as much of an impact as older generations. We have the opportunity to think creatively, and see our age as a benefit, and not a burden to creating and realizing innovative policies that better our communities.

If there was one message that we as participants and attendees took away from the NextGen IL conference, it was an echo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1936 address to the Democratic National Convention: “There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” Our generation faces seemingly insurmountable problems, but if the NextGen space was any indication, we can expect bold solutions.

Julius Goldberg-Lewis is the Midwestern Regional Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a senior at the University of Michigan. Dominic Russel is the Midwestern Policy Coordinator and a sophomore at the University of Michigan. Rachel Riemenschneider is the Midwestern New Chapters Coordinator and a junior at Northwestern University.

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Daily Digest - September 29: Local Investing for Local Community Growth

Sep 29, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

GWU Students Tackling Income Inequality in Their Own Backyard (USA Today)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

GWU Students Tackling Income Inequality in Their Own Backyard (USA Today)

Campus Network Northeast Regional Coordinator Areeba Kamal profiles the George Washington University chapter's Bank on DC initiative, which asks the university to invest at least $250,000 in a community development bank.

Failing the Midterms (In These Times)

Chris Lehmann considers why the Democrats lack a solid midterm agenda. Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Tom Ferguson places the blame on the power of wealthy donors in finance and Silicon Valley.

Inside the New York Fed: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash (ProPublica/This American Life)

Jake Bernstein reports on recording made by a New York Federal Reserve bank examiner embedded at Goldman Sachs, which show the Fed's reluctance to take risks and push back on the banks.

Goldman Bans Employee Stock Trading Following “This American Life” Broadcast (Buzzfeed)

Matthew Zeitlin reports on Goldman's new policies, which appear to respond to concerns about conflict of interest policies raised in the ProPublica/This American Life report.

Bad Tech Helped Banks Screw Homeowners (Medium)

By choosing not to update their technology, mortgage servicers have an easier time covering up the illegal foreclosures that boost their profits, writes Alexis Goldstein.

Obamacare’s Good News Week (MSNBC)

Suzy Khimm highlights new evidence of the Affordable Care Act's success, including hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid seeing fewer uninsured patients, which reduces costs.

New on Next New Deal

Democracy, Economic Crisis, and “Rethinking Communities”

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Sabeel Rahman looks at the Campus Network's Rethinking Communities initiative as a successor to post-Gilded Age reforms, focusing on local power and participatory democracy.

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Daily Digest - September 9: Block Grants Won't Solve Poverty -- They'll Make It Worse

Sep 9, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The Republican Playbook for Cutting Anti-Poverty Programs (The Nation)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

The Republican Playbook for Cutting Anti-Poverty Programs (The Nation)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal and Bryce Covert write that block grants, like those that make up Paul Ryan's anti-poverty proposal, effectively freeze funding for their programs.

Can Republicans Be Convinced to Help Improve the Affordable Care Act? (TAP)

Looking at Mike Konczal's suggestion for improving the Affordable Care Act, Paul Waldman says that more specific proposals will force Republicans to act.

Democrats Have a Depth Problem. It’s Largely Their Own Fault. (WaPo)

Aaron Blake blames Democrats for not investing in developing young leaders, as the Republicans have done for 25 years, and credits groups like the Campus Network for starting to build that pipeline.

Ferguson Sets Broad Change for City Courts (NYT)

Frances Robles reports on the changes announced at Ferguson's first city council meeting since Mike Brown's death, including a cap on how much of the city's budget can come from court fines.

Dignity (New Yorker)

William Finnegan profiles one McDonalds employee on her work and her labor activism as she struggles to support her kids on $8.35 an hour, her wage after eight years on the job.

This Is What It's Like To Sit Through An Anti-Union Meeting At Work (HuffPo)

Dave Jamieson reports on recordings published by the Teamsters in which employers claim over and over that unions just want employees' money, not to improve the workplace.

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Campus Network Looks Ahead for Policy Engagement

Aug 22, 2014Joelle Gamble

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network has nine years of success under its belt, and is ready for more in its tenth.

“We know the old way of doing things isn’t going to cut it anymore. We want to pioneer a new process of civic engagement…” This is the opening line of the purpose statement our Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network staff articulated for this year. Its brazen rejection of the status quo and forward-looking promise of a new mode of policy change encapsulates the ethos of our network as we move into a new year.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network has nine years of success under its belt, and is ready for more in its tenth.

“We know the old way of doing things isn’t going to cut it anymore. We want to pioneer a new process of civic engagement…” This is the opening line of the purpose statement our Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network staff articulated for this year. Its brazen rejection of the status quo and forward-looking promise of a new mode of policy change encapsulates the ethos of our network as we move into a new year.

We believe that local, people-centric policy change can ripple into larger national change. We believe in the power of communities organized into networks to innovate, incubate, and promulgate impactful ideas.

This statement also pulls on the history of innovation and impact that the Campus Network has had over the past nine years. Founded on the conviction that student voices matter beyond Election Day, we have seen our members from across the country inject powerful ideas into the political debate and make tangible change in their communities. From starting revolving loan funds in Indiana to creating educational access in New Haven, from building capacity for non-profits in D.C. to combating student homelessness in Los Angeles, we have been and will continue to be committed to an unconventional and effective model of policy change.

Even in the past year of the Campus Network (2013-2014), students have taken enormous strides toward building a forward thinking, locally driven, and more inclusive policy process. Our presence has grown to over 38 states, with chapters at a diverse range of institutions, public and private, community college and four-year university. Ideas generated from our network have been read over a half-million times and our work has been featured in outlets like The Nation, Al Jazeera America and Time Magazine Ideas.

But, more than the power of the ideas or the prestige of the platforms which support them, the people in this network are what excites me the most about the years to come.

This first week of August, we hosted our 9th annual Hyde Park Leadership Summit at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. We gathered the leaders of Roosevelt chapters that have been around since our founding and the leaders of new chapters growing this year for a weekend of community-building, training and strategic thinking.  The overflowing energy, big thinking mentality, and willingness to pound the pavement summit attendees displayed was invigorating and holds the promise of a highly impactful year for our network.

And, we need that kind of energy and passion. We have a great deal that we want to accomplish.

  • We’re rolling out a new training curriculum to support chapters as they do policy research, organize their peers, and engage with stakeholders.
  • We’re pioneering a state-based approach to engaging young people in policy with our NextGen Illinois initiative and our new Chicago staff presence.
  • Highlighting that our network is about people, we’re investing deeply in our chapter leaders and national student leadership team, increasing opportunities for training, conferences, and publishing.
  • With specific, actionable projects under our belt, we’re launching another year of our Rethinking Communities Initiative. (Check out our new toolbox here.)
  • Through increased and innovative usage of online tools and social media, we’re building community amongst the members of our network. We recognize that you don’t necessarily have to be in the same room as someone to be connected to them.
  • As we approach out 10th year as a network, we’re making a special effort to engage and reengage our distinguished alumni. Roosevelt alumni have gone amazing places; we’re reconvening them to help chart the course ahead with us.

With our powerful team of national student leaders, an expanded level of staff capacity, and a little grit, we will continue to grow and strengthen the Campus Network to tackle issues today and build progressive leaders for tomorrow.

Let’s get to work!

Joelle Gamble is the National Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Curbing Campus Sexual Assault is Not About the Money

Aug 19, 2014Hannah Zhang

The cost of sexual assault on college campuses far outweighs that of implementing bipartisan, comprehensive reform.  

The cost of sexual assault on college campuses far outweighs that of implementing bipartisan, comprehensive reform.  

On August 13, I stood with Senator Gillibrand, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and survivors, among others, at the Senator’s New York press conference on the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA). Currently co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of Senators, eight Democratic and seven Republican, this bill represents a tough but common sense reform. It requires universities to designate Confidential Advisors as a resource for survivors, provide a minimum standard of training to personnel processing sexual assault cases, and conduct an annual survey of all students on sexual violence. For schools that do not comply with these requirements, this bill increases the initial financial penalty to up to one percent of their operating budgets and $150,000 (previously $35,000) for each subsequent violation.

As a student attending a university that struggles to combat sexual assault, I hope that this bill will hold my school accountable in the future. As an advocate for progressive change, I was proud to stand with the Senator on this bill that focuses reforms on survivors. 

While increasing financial penalties is a common sense solution, the seemingly common sense objection is that CASA provides no funding for colleges to implement surveys and hire personnel. This much is true, but is financial cost really an issue compared to the cost that sexual assault imposes upon young women?

In introducing CASA, Senator Gillibrand repeats a powerful tagline—“The price of a college education should not include a 1-in-5 chance of being sexually assaulted,” a statistic from the White House Report on campus sexual assault.

This cost far outweighs a fine that constitutes one percent of a university’s massive total budget or funds set aside to hire staff. For instance, Stanford University’s operating budget of $4.8 billion is more than the national GDPs of Cape Verde and Bhutan combined. While public universities arguably have fewer resources than these private institutions, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher gave the bill her full support on behalf of the SUNY system.

One critic argues that the fines and expenses of compliance would take money away from academic programs. Lawmakers, another critic writes, have stated that the costs would “compromise the education of a college’s entire student body.” These statements neglect the sad truth that campus sexual assault has already compromised the education of countless students. Stopping sexual assault helps campuses to focus on academics, rather than hindering them from doing so.

Talking about money misses the point. The goal of CASA isn’t to fine universities. It’s to incentivize compliance. By investing in the resources now, universities create a safer educational environment for current and prospective students.

Curbing sexual assault should be a priority for our universities for yet another reason. Sexual assault on campuses exists as part of a larger, global problem – violence against women, which remains a significant barrier to full gender equality.

Charlotte Bunch, founder of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and speaker at the upcoming Women and Girls Rising Conference, said it best in 1997, “Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive violation of human rights in the world today.” Bunch pioneered the inclusion of gender violence in the larger fight for human rights. Her words remain true in today’s world, where almost a third of all women have experienced physical or sexual violence (or both) perpetrated by an intimate partner.

The U.S. has taken action on this issue in the past, most recently reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. We tend not to associate the U.S. with developing countries where wife beating is condoned and women are raped as casualties of war. Yet the evidence that 20 percent of women who step foot on U.S. college campuses face sexual violence proves that our work is far from over. To stand as a global leader in gender equality, the U.S. must start by fixing problems at home.

Hannah Zhang is the Campus Network's External Engagement Coordinator for the Northeast, and a member of the Columbia University chapter. 

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Suspensions are Keeping Students of Color from their Diplomas

Aug 18, 2014Bassem El Remesh

Policies that strictly limit the use of suspension and expulsion in schools will help to close the racial education gap.

Policies that strictly limit the use of suspension and expulsion in schools will help to close the racial education gap.

Despite being ranked as one of the best states to live in, Minnesota still suffers from racial inequality. Even if laws and politics treat everyone equally, the educational experience is different for people of different races. In 2013, only 62 percent of students of color graduated from high school, as opposed to 85 percent of white students. Similarly, a smaller proportion of students of color will finished college compared to their white counterparts: 33 percent of white Minnesotans have a degree, but only 19 percent of black Minnesotans.

Suspension, studies show, is a key reason why students drop out of school. A study conducted in Florida found that being suspended out-of-school even once was associated with a two-fold increase in the risk of dropout. Moreover, each additional suspension increased the risk of dropping out by 20 percent. By the end of the suspension period, students tend to lag behind academically and feel very excluded in classes. As a consequence, that feeling of disconnectedness convinces students that they are not smart enough to continue their education and that quitting is a better option. Dropping out of school early can have tremendous effects on someone’s life, taking away employment opportunities and increasing the likelihood of crimes. A paper published by Northwestern University shows that students who drop out of high school have only a 46 percent chance of finding a job, and those who manage to find a job will likely have an income below the national average. Moreover, 22 percent of black males who drop out of high school are jailed. This means, if you are a black male student and you get suspended, it's more likely that your future will involve unemployment, working in in a low paying job, or jail.

Suspension policies in Minnesota schools are further disadvantaging students of color, and are widening the gap between them and white Minnesotans. Students of color have a tremendously higher suspension rates compared to their white peers. In the 2009-10 academic year, 37 percent of male African American secondary school students in Saint Paul, Minnesota were suspended as opposed to nine percent of white male students and only three percent of Asians.

Giving students an equal chance of an enriching classroom experience is an urgent necessity in Minnesota today. It is a first step towards bridging the educational gap between different racial groups and paves the way towards a race less society in Minnesota and the rest of the country. Other states have implemented policies to combat racial disparities in school suspensions. In California, the Department of Education issued a law that limits and specifies cases where suspension and expulsion are allowed. As a result, in-school and out-of-school suspensions dropped 14 percent, and the suspension rate for students of color such as African Americans went down by 9.5 percent from previous year.

Alternatives to suspension should be taken very seriously and the circumstances under which a student can be suspended should be limited and clearly defined. Some of the measures to avoid suspension in California include programs to resolve conflicts by bringing all parties together and offering incentives for good behavior, as well as in-school suspensions, school service, counseling, community service, detention, and mentoring (with a teacher or a counselor). These measures help the students have a stronger connection with their teacher and their school. By implementing such measures in Minnesota, we could begin to close the racial education gap.

Bassem El Remesh is a junior at Macalester College and a Roosevelt Institute Summer Academy Fellow. He was the Campus Network's Field and Political Landscape Intern.

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Daily Digest - August 7: What Piketty's 'Capital' Means for Marginalized Americans

Aug 7, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

How Gender Changes Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ (The Nation)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

How Gender Changes Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ (The Nation)

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Director Joelle Gamble joins The Nation's roundtable on feminism and the economy to discuss how Piketty's findings affect women and people of color.

New York: Young Ideas for Social Cohesion (UBM's Future Cities)

Jordan Fraade writes about the Roosevelt Institute Summer Academy's NYC Policy Expo as an example of young people not just moving to cities, but developing policy to improve them.

The 1% May Be Richer Than You Think, Research Shows (Bloomberg)

Jeanna Smialek reports on new research that shows the wealth of the 1 percent to be significantly undercounted. She speaks to Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz, who isn't surprised.

Bank of America Offers U.S. Biggest Settlement in History (NYT)

In reaction to another case that turned out badly, Bank of America has offered a $16 billion settlement for its sale of toxic mortgage securities, write Ben Protess and Michael Corkery.

Cold Porridge For Regular People: The Myth of the Goldilocks Economy (TAP)

Robert Kuttner says that only the wealthy could consider this economic climate not too hot or too cold – for everyone else, there aren't enough jobs and wages are staying flat.

The Market Basket Protests And The American Worker (On Point)

Tom Ashbrook takes a close look at the protests happening at Market Basket supermarkets, in which the managers are pushing to keep a CEO who they feel has workers' best interests at heart.

New on Next New Deal

Progress, Yet No Progress: The Two Lines of Defense Against Too-Big-To-Fail

The largest banks' "living wills," meant to facilitate an orderly bankruptcy process, aren't good enough, and Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal says that shows that Too-Big-to-Fail isn't entirely solved.

As Tech Advances, Big Business Will Reap the Benefits

In his video speculation for the Next American Economy project, Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution says that existing businesses are capturing the benefits of new technology, to the detriment of new firms.

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Thinking About the Women in Think Tanks

Aug 4, 2014Hannah Zhang

Women are still lagging behind their male counterparts in the policy arena, and changing that requires engaging younger women.

Women are still lagging behind their male counterparts in the policy arena, and changing that requires engaging younger women.

In recent years, several prominent women have replaced their male predecessors in top think tank leadership positions. Last year, Anne-Marie Slaughter replaced Steve Coll as president of the New America Foundation; in 2011, Neera Tanden took over for John Podesta as president of the Center for American Progress. In early 2012, Felicia Wong took over as President and CEO here at the Roosevelt Institute, replacing Andy Rich. While these women leaders are touted as examples of greater female representation in public policy, this is hardly the full picture.

Women are taking on leadership roles in think tank management, but men still dominate the thinking roles, making up the majority of scholars and “Senior Fellows” who influence policy. According to their public rosters, only a quarter of CAP fellows, 19 of 59 Brookings Institution experts, 20 out of 65 fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations, and seven of 33 Heritage Foundation fellows are women. In academia, an incubator of think tank experts, women hold only 24 percent of tenured positions at doctoral-granting institutions, and merely 19 percent of tenured full professor positions.

Perhaps contrary to common assumption, women’s lack of representation in think tanks isn’t due to their lack of academic expertise. In fact, women are quickly edging to surpass men in higher education. The World Economic Forum’s 2013 Gender Gap Report ranked the United States number one for gender equality in educational attainment among more than 130 countries. Last year, 31.4 percent of American women 25 years and over had completed college, compared to 32 percent of men. 27,300 men and 27,600 women received doctoral degrees.

Why does equal education attainment fail to translate into equal representation in policy research institutions?

Possible answers to this question range from women having more family obligations to self-selecting against policy areas like defense and finance. Other potential explanations include difficulty securing mentorship early in their careers and systemic biases.

A related problem is the lack of women in political positions, since many policy wonks rise from the ranks of former politicians and government officials. Less than 20 percent of federal and state legislators are women. They occupy only six of 23 cabinet and cabinet-level positions. If fewer women enter politics, fewer women join think tanks after serving their term.

We may be able to find a better answer in looking at a woman’s career ambitions, where a fundamental gap exists between young men and women’s political ambitions. The School of Public Affairs at American University conducted a survey last year of more than 2,100 college students ages 18 to 25 and found that young women are less likely to be socialized by their parents to consider politics as a career path and less likely to think they will be qualified to run for office.

Yet we need young women more than ever to step up and ensure that the next generation of American policymakers remains committed to full gender equality. According to a recent World Bank Report, women’s participation in government results in greater responsiveness to citizen needs and policies that prioritize families and women. When at least a quarter of a country’s legislators were women, laws discriminating against women were more likely to be repealed.

We cannot change existing structures in governments and think tanks today. Rather, we must invest in women of the future to change the gender gap in political ambition. Currently, a number of programs exist that encourage young women to run for office, develop female graduate students in public policy, or offer brief leadership trainings for college women. However, these programs lack a long-term support network to engage undergraduate women in public policy at the beginning of their careers.

With chapters at 115 colleges and universities, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network is well positioned to fill this gap, beginning with the Eleanor Roosevelt Policy Initiative. This summer, the Campus Network is hosting an essay contest on gender equality, selecting six young people to attend the Women and Girls Rising Conference. In September, the winners will engage with prominent activists, officials, and scholars on the past and future of international women’s movements.

Following the conference, these individuals will continue to work with the Campus Network on promoting young women in policy spheres. To move forward with a vision of equality, we must tell young women today that their ideas are vital in creating stable governments and societies of tomorrow.

If you are a current college student or recent graduate, enter the contest here

Hannah Zhang interned for the Roosevelt Institute's Women and Girls Rising initiative as a Summer Academy Fellow this year. She is Campus Network's External Relations Coordinator for the Northeast.

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