Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Report · June 2017

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

Hans Johnson, Kevin Cook, and Marisol Cuellar Mejia

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

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.


Access Completion Economy Equity Higher Education Workforce Needs