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Report · October 2019

Higher Education in California: Expanding College Access

Hans Johnson, Sarah Bohn, Jacob Jackson, and Olga Rodriguez

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Sutton Family Fund.


More California high school graduates are academically ready for college than ever before. More are applying to and enrolling in college, and both the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU) are expanding access for example-UC pledged to enroll 10,000 more freshmen and transfer students between 2016 and 2018. But many qualified applicants are still being turned away, which is a source of concern. Indeed, a 2018 PPIC Statewide Survey found that more than half of Californians are concerned about enrollment capacity in the state’s public colleges and universities.

Expanding access to college benefits individuals and the state as a whole. The economic returns to a postsecondary degree are at their highest level in decades, even as more Californians are attending college, and workers with postsecondary degrees will continue to play a crucial role in the state’s economic growth. Expanding access can also ensure that our system of higher education offers opportunities to Californians who have historically been underrepresented in postsecondary institutions, including those from low-income families and the state’s Latino and African American populations.

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



Access Higher Education Population