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Report · October 2019

Higher Education in California: Meeting California’s Workforce Needs

Hans Johnson, Sarah Bohn, and Marisol Cuellar Mejia

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


A skilled workforce is key to a thriving California economy. Strong and growing demand for highly educated workers has been a hallmark of the state’s economy for decades, and forecasts show this demand continuing into the future. If current trends continue, about 40 percent of jobs in California will require at least a bachelor’s degree by 2030. Failing to keep up with the demand for skilled workers could curtail economic growth, limit economic mobility, and increase inequality.

The importance of increasing the number of college graduates goes beyond workforce needs. Individuals with higher levels of education earn higher wages and enjoy greater job security and non-wage benefits. The state as a whole could also benefit from lower unemployment and poverty rates, lower demand for social safety net programs, lower incarcera-tion rates, higher tax revenue, and greater civic engagement.

The challenge of increasing the number of college graduates in California is heightened by demographic shifts toward populations that have historically been underrepresented in higher education. Meeting this challenge requires sustained coordination across educational sectors-from K-12 schools to public and private universities. It also involves measuring student progress and identifying effective programs and policies.

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


Economy Higher Education Workforce and Training Workforce Needs