skip to Main Content

Higher Education in California: California’s Higher Education System


California’s higher education system includes three public segments—the University of California (UC), the California State University (CSU), and the California Community Colleges. It also includes more than 150 private nonprofit colleges and about 200 for-profit institutions. In total, the state’s colleges and universities enroll more than two million students from a wide range of backgrounds.

Most students attend public colleges, but a sizable share (25%) attend private schools. Indeed, private nonprofit colleges enroll more students than the University of California. Enrollment in private for-profit colleges has started to decline after increasing sharply for many years.

Unlike most other states, California has no coordinating body for higher education. This makes goal setting, oversight, and coordination more challenging. The Master Plan for Higher Education, adopted by the state legislature in 1960, established a structure and a set of principles for public higher education that are still largely in effect. Through the Master Plan, the state’s public system was able to accommodate dramatic increases in enrollment for several decades while providing broad access and charging little or no tuition. But over the past two decades, tuition has risen sharply and enrollment has not kept up with demand—largely because of reductions in state support.

This publication is part of a briefing kit that highlights our state’s most pressing higher education challenges in seven key areas:



We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Sutton Family Fund.

Back To Top