The most recent PPIC Statewide Survey on Californians’ views on education finds that the vast majority of parents (83%) hope their children will obtain at least a bachelor degree—in fact, nearly half (48%) want their children to earn a graduate degree. These parental aspirations are relatively constant across race/ethnicity, political ideology, and income. They are also fairly consistent across regions—although, among the regions represented in the survey, parents in the Central Valley are the least likely (77%) and San Francisco Bay Area parents are the most likely (96%) to want their children to earn college or graduate degrees. These parental aspirations may be linked to student course taking and performance in high school. Over the past decade, there has been a 48% increase in completion of the coursework that makes California high school graduates eligible for UC or CSU; in 2015, 43% of the state’s graduating class met this eligibility requirement.
Moreover, these aspirations are aligned with urgent state needs. If current economic and educational trends persist, California will fall 1.1 million bachelor’s degrees short of economic demand by 2030. The state economy is increasingly reliant on high-skill workers, but most K–12 students do not stay on track to obtain a bachelor’s degree, let alone a graduate degree. Previous PPIC research has shown that for every 1,000 9th graders in California, only 305 will earn a bachelor’s degree at UC or CSU.
California has a long way to go in meeting demand for higher education, but there are signs of progress. The state has been reinvesting in public higher education, increasing undergraduate enrollment, and improving student outcomes—and the public education systems are increasingly willing to work together to streamline the higher education pipeline. California will need continued innovation and significant investment in facilities and faculty in order to accommodate the kind of enrollment growth that can keep up with economic demand and individual aspirations. Moreover, given the large share of Californians who see advanced degrees as important, the state may want to begin a more robust discussion about graduate school, along the lines of its recent focus on career technical education.