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Meeting California’s Need for College Graduates: A Regional Perspective


California needs 1.1 million more workers with bachelor’s degrees by 2030 to keep up with economic demand. More college graduates would mean higher incomes, greater economic mobility, more tax revenue, and less demand for social services. In addressing this projected shortfall, three regions will play an especially critical role: Los Angeles County, the Inland Empire, and the San Joaquin Valley. Indeed, improving college outcomes in these regions could help close more than half of the statewide skills gap.

Boosting graduation rates for those already in college will have the greatest impact, but enrolling more freshmen and transfer students is also crucial. Among the three regions, Los Angeles County is in the best position, offering an array of higher education opportunities and a strong labor market for highly educated workers. In contrast, despite solid high school graduation rates, the Inland Empire and the San Joaquin Valley see low rates of college completion. In the Inland Empire, many high school graduates never enroll in college, and too often college students fail to earn their degree. In the San Joaquin Valley, many students attend community college but never successfully transfer to a four-year institution. Further, our projections suggest that, given expected population growth, these two regions are somewhat underresourced with respect to public universities—with more students from the region likely to pursue higher education than can be served by existing regional capacity.

Despite the challenges ahead, considerable progress has already occurred. Student preparation for college is up in all three regions, as are college enrollment and graduation rates. Our research highlights several opportunities to build on this progress:

  • Increase capacity at four-year universities by continuing to focus on four-year graduation rates and encouraging satellite campuses.
  • Streamline the transfer pathway by aligning student success initiatives among community colleges, public universities, and private nonprofit colleges in the same region.
  • Develop regional promise programs with common standards to reduce inequities and expand reach beyond what local programs can offer.
  • Support regional data-sharing partnerships, such as the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium and Growing Inland Achievement, to promote the coordination and evaluation of regional efforts.

Since most students attend college relatively close to home, an integrated, regional approach can be an efficient way to expand institutional capacity, make it easier and more affordable for qualified students to enroll in four-year colleges, and evaluate the effectiveness of new initiatives. Regional action toward these goals is essential to continue recent successes and further improve educational outcomes—thereby increasing economic opportunities in these key regions and across the state.

This research was supported with funding from the College Futures Foundation and the Sutton Family Fund.

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