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Video: Higher Education as a Driver of Economic Mobility

Mary Severance December 13, 2018
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Higher education plays a key role in helping Californians move up the income ladder—but equity gaps are a big challenge. Among young adults born in California, 60% of Asian Americans and 40% of whites have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 21% of African Americans and 18% of Latinos. At a Sacramento briefing yesterday, PPIC researcher Sarah Bohn outlined these and other key findings of a new report.

Bohn noted that “higher education is correlated with a host of benefits in today’s society.” Workers with at least a bachelor’s degree earn 73% more than high school graduates. While earnings levels are affected by many factors—including the subject area of a college major, geographic location, and the field of employment—Bohn stressed that “the higher the level of education you have, the greater the economic return that you experience.”

California has historically enjoyed strong economic and education gains. However, while the economy is currently booming, recent trends in educational attainment are not as encouraging. Young adults in California today are only slightly more likely to have graduated from college than older adults. Moreover, graduation rates are lower for low-income residents and underrepresented race/ethnic groups.

These equity gaps are especially troubling because low-income, Latino, and African American students—as well as students who would be the first generation in their families to attend college—make up the vast majority of California’s high school population. The community colleges, UC, and CSU have undertaken serious efforts to narrow these gaps—but, as Bohn noted, all educational sectors, including K–12 schools and private institutions, play an important role.

California’s higher education systems have been implementing policies and programs that are likely to increase college graduation rates among the state’s diverse population. Bohn concluded by highlighting the progress that has been made and outlining additional actions that can help more Californians—particularly underrepresented students—benefit from higher education.

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