MoVaLearns – Mayor’s Challenge

Moreno Valley, California

Mike Lee, Interim City Manager

In Moreno Valley, just one in four adults are college educated. As the city embarked on economic development initiatives, its leaders recognized the need to improve the educational level and diversity of the local workforce—in short, the need for Inclusive Economic Development. In California, and the nation, workforce is among the top three criteria site selectors consider when evaluating prospective business locations.

In response, Mayor Yxstian Gutierrez launched a serious dialogue with local educational and county leaders to explore ways to provide a larger and more diverse group of residents with opportunities for the economic prosperity that comes with new growth.

They started by focusing on the city’s most important asset—the students at Moreno Valley College, many of whom were at risk of dropping out, often for economic reasons. Faced with the “earn versus learn” choice between attending school and working low-wage shift jobs, many were forced to choose work.

Starting with a baseline survey, the city and the college partnered with students to design MoVaLearns–Mayor’s Challenge, a program that provides a $250 monthly stipend to give students a chance to pursue their education, supplemented by support and “wrap-around” services from the college, the city, the business community, and nonprofits.

The planning team included members from the city’s economic development department and media staff and the college’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) administration. But the most important designers were the students themselves, who used prototyping, story mapping, surveying, and interviewing to shape the program.

MoVaLearns targets CTE students who are in the second year, when they are at greatest risk of dropping out. Goals were to enroll more students in programs that lead to a living wage, ensure that students are aware of college and community support services, and increase the number of students who graduate with associate degrees and certificates. Initial funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies allowed the city to fund 50 students in the design phase. Students reported that the stipend and support services reduced their stress and enabled them to focus better on school. Approximately 93% of participants said the program helped them finish school more quickly. And 58% saw an increase in their grade point average.

Based on these results, the city council approved additional funding. In addition, the college formed an advisory committee with representatives from local industries to advise on the curriculum and facilitate job placement for CTE graduates. Finally, the city formed a community foundation to help secure private and philanthropic funding and buy-in.

Moreno Valley learned that it takes a village to envision a future that accelerates opportunities for everyone. The success of the MoVaLearns first-in-the-nation Universal Basic Student Income program resulted from partnerships involving the city, the college, the business community, other local organizations, and students.

Inclusive Economic Development, in programs like MoVaLearns, has direct benefits not only for students, who enjoy job-related education, but also for cities, which enjoy a competitive edge that allows them to attain such traditional economic development goals as attracting new businesses, jobs, and revenues while at the same time creating economic benefits for residents.