Larry Gordon/EdSource Today
The library at Los Angeles City College, where students will soon have a guaranteed path to a UC transfer.

California’s high school graduation rates have increased significantly in recent years, but the percentage of those students who complete their college education continues to lag, with long-term implications for the state’s future.

That is the stark conclusion of a new report by California Competes, a policy and advocacy organization focusing on the state’s system of higher education.

“High school graduation rates are improving steadily, but college completion rates are not following suit,” the report states.

Citing projections that the state will lack more than 2 million college-educated workers by 2025, California Competes executive director Lande Ajose said, “when you have the kind of robust economic fortune California has, and yet you see gaps in what is occurring in terms of degree attainment, that is cause for concern.”

California’s high school graduation rate — measured by the percentage of students who begin in the 9th grade and graduate four years later — increased from 77 percent in 2010 to 84 percent in 2016.

But just over half of California’s college students — 55 percent — get their associate degrees at a community college in three years or bachelor’s degrees in six years. That figure includes completion rates for private institutions as well as the state’s public colleges and universities. Completion rates are lowest at the California Community Colleges, which serves a student body with more part-time and older students than the California State University or the University of California.

The gap between high school and college completion are even more dramatic when looked at by race and ethnicity. The report does not address the causes of the disparities.

  • Latino students graduate from high school at close to the state average (81 percent), but only 47 percent of students completed their college degrees. “Improvement in high school completion and college enrollment have not yet translated into proportionate gains in college outcomes,” the report states.
  • The largest high school graduation-college completion gap is among African-American students. In 2016, 73 percent graduated from high school in 2016, but only 38 percent of black college students did so.
  • While the gap is significant for white students as well, it is not nearly as much as for students for other racial and ethnic groups. Nearly 90 percent of white students graduate from high school in 2016, while 60 percent complete their college degrees.
  • Asian students show the smallest gap between high school and college completion. Ninety three percent finish high school, compared to 68 percent who finish college.

The report also found that students with the lowest college completion rates enroll at a disproportionately high rate in private, for profit institutions. These institutions, the report notes, “have historically lower completion, and often job placement rates, than other segments.” Black students are twice as likely to enroll in these colleges as the state average.  As many as one in five black students are enrolled in these colleges. Latino students are far less likely to attend these colleges.  Of the Latinos attending college, seven percent are enrolled in for-profit colleges, the study said.

Although not described in the report, there are multiple reasons for the disparities between high school and college outcomes. K-12 education attendance is mandatory for students under age 18, while college attendance is not. Students typically get much more support and attention in high school than they receive in most colleges. High school graduates may not be academically prepared to handle college-level work, and on top of that may face financial obstacles. Many students attend college part-time and have to work to cover college costs, or in the case of older students, to support newly formed families.

To help improve graduation rates, California Competes recommends that California establish a statewide body of some kind to “inform state-level postsecondary and workforce planning through recommendations such as how best to invest state resources to close the degree gap.”

The report also says that California also needs a comprehensive education data system that links students from preschool to high school, and then to their postsecondary years and the workplace.

“Most residents and most voters assume that the state makes rational decisions based on information, and actually we don’t make rational decisions on information that we don’t have,” said Ajose.

The report also points to widening gender disparities at critical points on the education continuum.   Just over half of girls (51 percent) graduate from high school meeting the eligibility requirements to enter a CSU or UC campus, while only 40 percent of boys do. Male students have far lower college completion rates (52 percent) compared to women (58 percent).

African Americans experience the greatest educational gender disparities.  “Black women have much stronger educational outcomes than black men,” the report noted.

 

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  1. SD Parent 5 months ago5 months ago

    To Jordon Horowitz’s point, this study is using race/ethnicity as the only variable, which can easily cause extrapolation of the data in ways that paint a portrait of race as the sole factor for success or lack thereof. All high school graduates are not the same: One can graduate with a 2.0 GPA or a 4+ GPA. And not all students admitted to college/university are the same, based on GPA and ACT/SAT test … Read More

    To Jordon Horowitz’s point, this study is using race/ethnicity as the only variable, which can easily cause extrapolation of the data in ways that paint a portrait of race as the sole factor for success or lack thereof.

    All high school graduates are not the same: One can graduate with a 2.0 GPA or a 4+ GPA. And not all students admitted to college/university are the same, based on GPA and ACT/SAT test scores alone – the two most frequently used metrics, the latter primarily measuring reading, writing and analytical skills — and a whole host of other factors, such as whether they are the first to go to college, whether they are financially supported or have to work, etc. These factors can impact the college admission rate (e.g. those with lower GPAs and test scores are more likely to attend community college; those with higher GPAs and test scores more likely to attend a UC or CSU), graduation rate (e.g. is the student working a job in addition to taking courses) and subsequent success for employment for these students.

    Looking at the full report, there is no evidence to suggest that the researchers compared students with similar college admission backgrounds – namely GPAs and test scores (the two most common criteria used by colleges and universities for admission) — or any other criteria (such as how many hours they were working while attending college, whether they were the first to go to college, etc.) and instead used racial/ethnic group as the only variable. I suspect if you ran the same data with the only variable being first to go to college or working more than 20 hours per week as a college student, you’d find the data to support that one of these variables was also the factor. My first college roommate was the first to go to college, worked 15+ hours per week, flunked out … and was white.

    As an aside, the full report’s contention that race plays a role in the ability of students to gain access in higher paying careers in STEM is frustrating. I strongly suspect that the primary reason that students fail to succeed in STEM fields has to do with their ability (or lack thereof) in Math, which is a “weeder” class in college for virtually all STEM careers. If the state were to find an effective way to teach Math concepts and logical reasoning (just creating Common Core standards does not create effective education in Math) during K-12, you’d find many more high school graduates would be prepared to go into the STEM fields in college.

  2. Joe Radding 5 months ago5 months ago

    Two questions that your timely article did not raise or address: (1) Are there particularly mature educational programs that seem to have a consistently strong “track record” of preparing under-represented students for college access and success (hint: AVID)? (2) What have state policymakers been doing (or not doing) about the problem identified in the College Competes report?

  3. Zach 5 months ago5 months ago

    Well, that's hardly surprising. Not just in California, but pretty much everywhere. College education is more costly and less rewarding than ever. I think the traditional college/university education is getting obsolete and less attractive. I believe in the one, free-for-all university: The Internet. Open education is the solution and the future. Your "degree" will be your experience. Of course there will be certain fields that require formal education/degrees, but not everyone needs that. The "college degree" mentality … Read More

    Well, that’s hardly surprising. Not just in California, but pretty much everywhere. College education is more costly and less rewarding than ever.

    I think the traditional college/university education is getting obsolete and less attractive. I believe in the one, free-for-all university: The Internet.

    Open education is the solution and the future. Your “degree” will be your experience. Of course there will be certain fields that require formal education/degrees, but not everyone needs that. The “college degree” mentality needs to change. We are in the open-source era!

  4. Jordan Horowitz 5 months ago5 months ago

    Although a call for a comprehensive, longitudinal student information system is a laudable step toward monitoring and understanding these gaps, it will not move the needle on student success. Data from a statewide SIS must be turned into information that is useful, usable, and—perhaps most importantly—actionable. Simply presenting the data has the expectation that education stakeholders have the analytic skills to make meaning of it. This is rarely the case and, as noted in our … Read More

    Although a call for a comprehensive, longitudinal student information system is a laudable step toward monitoring and understanding these gaps, it will not move the needle on student success. Data from a statewide SIS must be turned into information that is useful, usable, and—perhaps most importantly—actionable. Simply presenting the data has the expectation that education stakeholders have the analytic skills to make meaning of it. This is rarely the case and, as noted in our book Creating a Data-Informed Culture in Community Colleges (Phillips & Horowitz, Harvard Education Press, 2017), attempts over the past few decades to improve data literacy among stakeholders have not succeeded. Furthermore, stakeholders fulfilling various roles—administrators, teachers, parents, students, school boards, et al.—need to be provided with the information they can act on and not myriad tables of data that require them to identify the meaningful story. Ultimately, our students’ success requires that useful and useable information is in the hands of the right people at the right time, so they can act.

  5. John Pryor 5 months ago5 months ago

    This is interesting material, but looking at it from a CA resident point of view, I wondered if the CA college completion rates are just for CA residents? By looking at high-school and then college, I think the implication is that you are looking at CA residents going to high school and then college, but in looking at this with a researcher hat on, it seems that these are apples and oranges, with the college … Read More

    This is interesting material, but looking at it from a CA resident point of view, I wondered if the CA college completion rates are just for CA residents? By looking at high-school and then college, I think the implication is that you are looking at CA residents going to high school and then college, but in looking at this with a researcher hat on, it seems that these are apples and oranges, with the college completions being all undergraduates, those from outside CA included. If you are trying to make the case that the institutions need work, then OK. But the implications of the report and article is that this is a problem at the student level as well. You just cannot compare high-school students in CA with college students in CA and think you are looking at the same thing. Many students go to college out of state,and many non-resident’s come to CA for college.

  6. Ann 5 months ago5 months ago

    “Most residents and most voters assume that the state makes rational decisions based on information….” Incorrect assumptions lie at the root of every failure. Have the courage to test your assumptions. I personally assume most decisions made by the state, and especially the DOE are as irrational as one can possible imagine. Why? Experience.

  7. Erik Kengaard 5 months ago5 months ago

    Why are these "studies" not based on data from the past 100 years. That might tell us something. Short term studies are usually just fodder for promoting one agenda or another. Following a sixth grade cohort of 40 from a 1948 Glendale elementary school class, I found that 99% graduated from high school, 52% went on to university or college, 90% of those who went on graduated, many with honors. Schools attended included Claremont McKenna College, … Read More

    Why are these “studies” not based on data from the past 100 years. That might tell us something. Short term studies are usually just fodder for promoting one agenda or another.
    Following a sixth grade cohort of 40 from a 1948 Glendale elementary school class, I found that 99% graduated from high school, 52% went on to university or college, 90% of those who went on graduated, many with honors. Schools attended included Claremont McKenna College, USC, USC Sch Of Med, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Dartmouth, Pepperdine, Caltech, Stanford, Stanford Law, Occidental College, Univerity of Minnesota at Duluth, et al.
    Today, the graduation rate at Glendale High is just 93%.
    Does anyone have data on current university attendance?

    http://www.latimes.com/socal/glendale-news-press/news/tn-gnp-me-0520-gradrates-20160519-story.html