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Boosting College Graduation in Three Regions Is Key to Future Prosperity

Los Angeles County, Inland Empire, San Joaquin Valley Can Help Close Skills Gap

SAN FRANCISCO, June 27, 2017—California needs to increase college graduation in three regions—Los Angeles County, the Inland Empire, and the San Joaquin Valley—if it is to meet the growing demand for educated workers and increase economic opportunities across the state, according to a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Increasing college enrollment and graduation in the three regions—home to almost half of the state’s population—could help the state meet more than half of its projected shortfall in educated workers. PPIC has estimated that the state will need 1.1 million more college-educated workers—above and beyond its current pace—by 2030 to keep up with economic demand.

The report analyzes data on demographics, college preparation, and college graduation in these large regions. All three are home to high numbers of young adults, the population most likely to attend college. And household incomes in all three areas tend to be lower than the statewide average. Yet each faces somewhat different challenges.

The report finds that Los Angeles County is in the best position of the three to meet the future need for college graduates. Although it has a lower high school graduation rate than the other two regions or the state overall, the county has a slightly higher share of students earning bachelor’s degrees at the University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU). It also offers an array of higher education institutions and a strong labor market for highly educated workers.

The Inland Empire and the San Joaquin Valley have solid high school graduation rates but low rates of college completion. In the Inland Empire, many high school graduates never enroll in college and many of those who do enroll fail to earn a degree. In the San Joaquin Valley, many students attend community college but few transfer to four-year institutions. PPIC projections suggest that, given expected population growth, both of these regions will need to increase institutional capacity to meet the demand for public higher education.

“Boosting graduation rates for those already in college will have the greatest impact in all three regions, but enrolling more freshmen and transfer students is also crucial,” said report coauthor Hans Johnson, director of the PPIC Higher Education Center and a senior fellow at PPIC. “Because most California students attend college relatively close to home, regional action is necessary to move the needle on college enrollment and graduation.”

In all three regions, increasing numbers of students are graduating from high school and meeting college readiness standards. The report outlines several ways to build on this progress:

  • Increase capacity at four-year universities. A continued focus on improving four-year graduation rates allows existing faculty and staff to serve more students. Satellite campuses can expand higher education opportunities close to where students live without the costs associated with opening a new campus.
  • Streamline the transfer pathway. Regional integration of student success initiatives among community colleges, public universities, and private nonprofit colleges is essential. The Associate Degree for Transfer program, for example, is designed to ease the transfer of community college students to CSU, and the Guided Pathways Initiative helps students navigate the community college system. Aligning these programs across higher education institutions within a region could further improve the efficiency of the transfer process.
  • Develop regional promise programs. College promise programs generally offer higher education opportunities to elementary and middle-school students in a specific geographic area. Benefits might include priority admission to local colleges, a semester or two of tuition, and support services. But these programs provide varying amounts of assistance and focus mainly on community colleges. Developing promise programs with clear standards that include all K–12 districts, community colleges, and four-year colleges in a region would better ensure affordability and access.
  • Support regional data-sharing partnerships. California lacks a statewide data system that allows educators to follow students over time and compare different programs and approaches. But leaders in some regions have developed regional data-sharing and evaluation networks, such as the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium and the Growing Inland Achievement, with the goal of improving coordination and rigorous evaluation of programs. The state could play a significant role in coordinating regional efforts such as these.

The report is titled Meeting California’s Need for College Graduates: A Regional Perspective. It is supported with funding from the College Futures Foundation and the Sutton Family Fund. In addition to Johnson, it was authored by Kevin Cook and Marisol Cuellar Mejia, PPIC research associates.

ABOUT PPIC

The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.

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