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California’s Future: Higher Education

Jacob Jackson, Hans Johnson | January 2018


Higher education benefits individuals and the state: college graduates are more likely to be employed and earn higher wages than nongraduates, which boosts state tax revenues and reduces pressure on the social safety net. However, California’s higher education system is not keeping up with the changing economy. Projections suggest that the state will continue to need greater numbers of highly educated workers. In 2030, if current trends persist, 38 percent of jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree. But population and education trends suggest that only 33 percent of working-age adults in California will have bachelor’s degrees by 2030—a shortfall of 1.1 million college graduates.

The state needs to act now to close the skills gap and meet future demand. To close the gap, the state should set new statewide goals for higher education and make the investments that will be necessary to improve educational outcomes and increase the number of college-educated workers. Improving access and completion rates for underrepresented groups, including Latinos, African Americans, and students from low-income families, will also be essential. To ensure that its investments pay off, the state will need to measure progress toward its goals and identify programs and policies that improve student success.

Californians are keenly aware of the importance of higher education. According to the April 2017 PPIC Statewide Survey, about eight in ten California parents hope their children will earn at least a bachelor’s degree. But Californians are worried about affordability. The November 2017 PPIC Statewide Survey shows that 57 percent of adults think affordability is a big problem at the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU), and 72 percent agree that the price of higher education keeps students who are qualified and motivated from attending college.

This publication is part of a briefing kit that highlights our state’s most pressing long-term policy challenges in 11 key areas:

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the PPIC Corporate Circle and the PPIC Donor Circle.

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