California 'average' when it comes to preparing students for college, study says

January 23, 2014

Location plays a significant part in determining whether California students are prepared for college, according to a new study that found significant differences in college-going rates across the state.

Regional differences are starkest among students taking advanced classes, according to the study. In the San Francisco Bay Area, 60 percent of high school students are enrolled in advanced science, the highest in the state, compared with 12 percent in Inyo and Mono counties, which have the lowest participation rates in the state. In math, 13 percent of students in the South San Joaquin Valley are enrolled in advanced classes versus 36 percent in Orange County.

Researchers at the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy at Sacramento State University found similar regional disparities along with racial and ethnic gaps in college going rates, completion of the A-G courses that are required for admission to California State University and the University of California, and student scores on the California Standards Tests.

California’s performance on college preparation, access and completion is generally middle of the road say researchers at the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy. Source: Campaign for College Opportunity

Overall, the study said that the state is improving in college readiness, but still falls below the national average. The study examined how well California’s public colleges stacked up against those in other states by evaluating trends and performance in six categories  – preparation, affordability, participation, completion, benefits, and finance, measured by the share of per capita personal income spent on higher education. California earned average ratings in the affordability, completion and finance categories, was ranked “worse than most states” in preparation, and was “better than most states” in benefits and participation.

in explaining the ratings, the study said that college affordability is declining due to years of budget cuts and tuition hikes, but remains average for the nation. The percentage of students attending college is better than in most states, but graduation rates are a mixed bag. California ranks fifth in the nation when it comes to degrees awarded per 100 undergraduates at CSU and UC, but “performs poorly on the number of credentials and degrees produced relative to enrollments in public two-year colleges,” according to the study.

“This report confirms our own research that California’s performance on key measures of college-going and success is untenable. A trajectory of ‘average’ will not close the workforce gap facing California nor will it position the state to retain its standing as a national or global economic leader,” said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, which commissioned the study.

Indeed, one area where the state stands out is in the economic benefits of a college degree or certificate. On average, Californians with associate degrees earn $14,547 more per year than workers with high school diplomas; a bachelor’s degree brings in nearly $29,000 more per year.

Siqueiros said the findings show there’s a “lack of statewide policy leadership for our public colleges and universities” and said the state needs a wholesale revision of the 50-year-old Master Plan for Higher Education that addresses the economic needs and diversity of California.

“We must begin the process of developing a new statewide plan and we call on the governor, our legislative leaders and the college and university systems to start now,” Siqueiros said.

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