Most California high school graduates are not ready for college. Despite the steady improvements over the past decade, less than half of graduating seniors in the class of 2016 completed the a–g requirements, the set of courses high school students must complete to be eligible for admission to the University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU). The completion rate is substantially lower among Latino (37%), African American (34%), economically disadvantaged (37%), and English Learner (10%) students.
PPIC’s new report looks at the role of several institutional factors that may improve the completion rate, including high school graduation requirements, course placement policies and practices, and academic counseling and advising. But there is another significant barrier: not every high school in California offers the full a–g course sequence.
During the most recent school year (2016–17), 12% of California high schools did not offer the full math sequence, which includes algebra 1, geometry, and algebra 2. Similarly, 14% of high schools did not offer four years of a–g approved English courses. High-poverty schools (where more than 75% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) and high-minority schools (where more than 75% of students are African American or Latino) were just as likely as schools overall to offer the full sequence. But small schools (those at the bottom 25th percentile of the enrollment distribution) and rural schools were much less likely to do so. Close to 40% of small schools did not offer the full science sequence, which includes two years of approved science courses, and more than a third did not offer the full math or English sequence.
The difference in course offerings has contributed to low a–g completion rates at small and rural schools. For instance, the average a–g completion rate is 46% among all high schools, but only 30% or so among small or rural schools.
To improve student readiness for college, districts and schools need to increase the number of a–g approved courses. However, some schools may face capacity and resource limitations, such as not having enough qualified teachers. One solution is to establish a regional or statewide virtual school network so students in small or rural schools can enroll in online courses offered by other districts. Several states—including Florida (Florida Virtual Education), Wisconsin (Wisconsin Digital Learning Collaborative), Texas (Texas Virtual School Network), and Georgia (Georgia Virtual School)—have in recent years partnered with school districts to provide academic courses and test prep for all middle and high school students. California’s UC Scout program is a step in the right direction, providing a full set of online a–g courses accessible at no cost to students at participating schools.