With California's economy in tough financial straits, panelists at the College's May 7 State of the Economy Conference said the educational sector can help lead the way to recovery.

“Economic studies consistently show that higher education has a positive impact on living standards,” said Kris Chase, director of SMC's Center for the Regional Economy.

Diablo Valley College's dean Cheryl LeMay said a 2 percent increase in associate's degrees and a 1 percent increase in bachelor's degrees among Californians would create 174,000 new jobs.

Such growth won't be easy to achieve, however, as the state's public education system faced a $4 billion budget cut this year affecting kindergarten through graduate school.

“California schools' focus right now is not on instruction, but on keeping our doors open,” lamented Moraga schools superintendent Rick Schafer.

Given these limitations, several presenters encouraged Californians to be creative.

Lindy Khan, an SMC education doctoral student, said Contra Costa's community schools programs have successfully reached students at risk of dropping out.

“These students do better in places where they feel a greater sense of safety, more personal contact and a lack of ‘drama,'” she noted.

David Bank, vice president of Civic Ventures, said his organization's pilot program pairing retiring Baby Boomers with young underserved students has reaped rewards.

“This older population is helping kids to read and serving as their confidantes — it's a great model,” he said.

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