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California’s Future: Higher Education

Jacob Jackson, Hans Johnson | January 2020


The value of a college degree is the highest it has been in decades. The typical full-time worker with a bachelor’s degree earned $81,000 in 2017, while the typical worker with only a high school diploma earned $36,000. Educational attain­ment is associated with lower unemployment and less strain on the social safety net, as well as higher tax revenue and greater civic participation. In addition, awarding more bachelor’s degrees is key to meeting California’s future need for college-educated workers.

PPIC polling finds that a majority of Californians see a four-year degree as very important for economic and financial success in today’s economy. However, there are large and persistent gaps between socioeconomically disadvantaged groups and their peers—as well as across racial/ethnic groups—in college preparation, access, and completion. California has made progress in these areas, but more needs to be done. Targeted financial aid could expand access and improve completion. A more robust transfer pipeline would better connect community colleges—where most low-income and underrepresented students start—to four-year universities. Ongoing reforms in remedial (or developmental) educa­tion have the potential to remove a key obstacle.

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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