Recognizing Excellence in Orange County Feature Story

January 23, 2019

The stars are out in Southern California. 120 of them to be exact.

As in Strong Workforce Stars awarded to Orange County Community Colleges for their exceptionally high-quality career education programs by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. The recently released list recognizes college achievements on a variety of student success indicators.

“The stars show that the efforts and dedication of our region’s faculty, staff and community partners are paying off,” says Gustavo Chamorro, Orange County Director of the Los Angeles/Orange County Regional Consortium. “Our students are achieving many of their workforce and employment goals, and in the process, improving their economic mobility and future.

“Congratulations to our Orange County Region’s Strong Workforce Stars recipients!”

Each year, the California Community Colleges Strong Workforce Program uses the most recent wage data from the state, as well as student responses to the Career Education Outcomes Survey, to determine which community college programs are providing exceptional student outcomes based on three important employment and social mobility indicators:

  • Students experiencing an increase in income of 50% or more
  • At least 70% of students attaining the regional living wage
  • At least 90% of students securing employment in their field of study

This year, 1,384 community college programs across California were rewarded for excellence — all 114 colleges in the system had at least one program that received recognition. Of the 120 Stars that Orange County community colleges earned, four were Gold, 17 were Silver, and 99 were Bronze.

“The Workforce Stars program recognizes career education programs that meet established benchmarks that focus on advancing the regional workforce,” says Anthony Teng, Dean of Advanced Technology and Applied Science at Saddleback College, which led the region with 23 Workforce Stars. “O.C. community colleges are uniquely positioned to ‘move the needle’ in the training and support of our future workforce as they develop their skills and knowledge to enter the world of work.”

As part of the multi-pronged Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy framework, the Strong Workforce Program is part of the California Community College system’s commitment to create 1 million more middle-skilled workers to fuel regional economies and improve social mobility.

By targeting such areas as student success, career pathways, and workforce data and outcomes, the program seeks to not only increase the number of students enrolled in programs leading to high-demand, high-wage jobs, but also to improve overall program quality based on the ability of students to complete their degrees, transfer to four-year colleges, secure employment and/or improve their earnings.

In addition to rewarding exceptional student outcomes, the data that drives these awards provides meaningful insight into what it means to be a successful career education program and which industries currently provide the most effective pathways to students.

“These stars provide an expected standard that each program needs to achieve in preparing the future workforce,” says Teng. “We can no longer just offer classes and see who enrolls. The goal is to be agile and impactful in our course offerings so that students can be employed, advance in their current positions, and/or have the skills to meet the needs of the employer.”

For example, in Orange County, 23 total stars and three of the four Gold Stars went to healthcare-related programs, mirroring a statewide trend in which the majority of Gold Stars also went to programs in the healthcare field.

This isn’t surprising, as many of these programs exemplify the Guided Pathways approach, and the effectiveness of such practices as cohort-based classes, clearly articulated requirements that are aligned with industry standards, strong support structures, work-based learning, and stackable certificate and degree pathways.

Construction and public services programs also earned a high number of Gold Stars across the state. In Orange County, these programs accounted for 24 stars across eight campuses, giving credence to the effectiveness of apprenticeships and the role that local employers often play in the development of regional programs in these fields.

According to “Common Characteristics of 2018 Gold Strong Workforce Stars,” a publication of Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy, “star-winning” programs have certain common characteristics, such as being industry-driven, faculty-led, data-informed, and inter-segmentally engaged.

This data helps establish future areas of focus for the region’s career education programs as they continue on their quest to better serve students, while providing the kind of career education opportunities regional businesses and community stakeholders require.

“The O.C. community colleges and community partners have united to provide career education throughout the region,” reflects Teng. “This collaboration allows us to leverage each other’s strengths and provide more opportunities for the community to advance workforce development.  As these stars show, this work is making a difference where it matters most.”

For more information about the Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy Strong Workforce Program, please visit