Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Report · October 2019

Higher Education in California: Increasing Equity and Diversity

Hans Johnson, Marisol Cuellar Mejia, and Olga Rodriguez

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

A solid majority of California’s future college-age population will come from demographic groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education-including Latinos, African Americans, and those who are low income or the first in their families to go to college. PPIC research has shown that this demographic shift could make it more difficult for the state to meet future workforce needs.

Underrepresented students are less likely to complete college-for example, among young adults who were born in California, 58 percent of Asian Americans and 41 percent of whites have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 25 percent of African Americans and 20 percent of Latinos. Significant barriers with respect to college readiness, access to college, and college completion continue to lower underrepresented students’ odds of obtaining college degrees relative to their wealthier, well-represented peers. At the same time, large shares across underrepresented groups say that a college degree is very important, according to a PPIC 2018 Statewide Survey-particularly Latinos (69%) and low-income Californians (63%).

Every educational sector, from K-12 schools to public and private universities, has an important role to play in narrowing equity gaps and ensuring that more historically underrepresented students have opportunities to achieve upward economic mobility through higher education. The state and its educational institutions have invested heavily in a wide range of policies and programs that aim to help students make it into and through college. However, further action is needed to reduce persistent gaps.

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


Equity Higher Education Population