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Measuring Institutional Costs at California’s Public Universities

By Patrick Murphy, Kevin Cook, Talib Jabbar

California has recently increased its investment in higher education after many years of reducing state support. At the same time, the state’s four-year public systems, the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU), are currently poised to raise tuition for the first time in several years. If the past is any indication, intense discussions lie ahead about the need for additional higher education resources.

We offer a constructive starting point for those discussions by introducing a straightforward and objective assessment of institutional costs. We rely on a measure that connects institutional costs to the number of degrees UC and CSU produce. This measure provides a clear understanding of trends in California’s institutional costs and allows comparisons with colleges and universities in other states. It also offers higher education institutions the opportunity to demonstrate progress toward their goals in an accessible, transparent way.

Applying this measure to California’s public four-year institutions, we find that:

  • Institutional costs per degree across UC and CSU fell significantly—17 percent—from 1987 to 2013. This is an important savings in a state that will need to amp up its number of college graduates to meet future economic demand.
  • At UC, the cost per degree fell 6 percent over the period—from $116,000 to $109,000. UC’s institutional costs in 2013 were lower than a comparison group that included both public and private institutions across the nation. But UC’s costs were higher than a national comparison group of public schools only.
  • At CSU, the cost fell 33 percent—from $67,000 to $45,000. CSU’s 2013 costs were lower than both types of comparison groups—one that included public schools only and one that included both public and private institutions.

We recommend that policymakers and higher education leaders use the cost per degree measure as a way to frame higher education finance discussions. It provides a consistent, reliable, and objective measure of institutional costs and performance. For the measure to be most effective, accurate data reporting will be essential. We also recommend the reintroduction of a state-level higher education authority to add validity to the process of gauging institutional performance. Using the measure within a larger framework of agreed-upon goals would go a long way toward improving higher education finance policy in California.


College Readiness in California: A Look at Rigorous High School Course-Taking

By Niu Gao

Recognizing the educational and economic benefits of a college degree, education policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels have made college preparation a priority. There are many ways to measure college readiness, but one key component is rigorous high school coursework. California has not yet adopted a statewide college readiness requirement, but a growing number of school districts—including Los Angeles Unified, San Jose Unified, Oakland Unified, San Diego Unified, and San Francisco Unified—now require students to complete the rigorous coursework, called the "a–g courses,” that are necessary for admission to the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU) system.

In this report we look at participation and performance in rigorous high school courses among California high school students, both overall and across demographic and racial/ethnic groups. While enrollment in rigorous courses has been increasing, particularly among students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education, a large majority of California high school students are not taking the courses that can prepare them for college. Forty-three percent of high school graduates in 2015 completed the a–g requirement, and 27 percent of high school graduates in 2013 passed an advanced placement (AP) exam. Participation in advanced math, biology, chemistry, and physics courses is also low. In particular, only 30 percent of high school juniors and seniors enrolled in Algebra II and smaller shares enrolled in chemistry (28%) and physics (10%).

As they monitor the progress of public high schools in preparing students for college, state policymakers and districts need to focus on indicators such as a–g completion, benchmark course-taking, and end-of-course exam (EOC) results. We also recommend tracking performance across student groups to help schools and districts address gaps in achievement and provide educational resources to students who need them most.

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Expanding Education, Reducing Recidivism

By Mia Bird, Amy Lerman

A federal pilot program to allow access to Pell Grants to those incarcerated in prisons could not only expand access to higher education, but it could also improve public safety and reduce correctional costs.


Statewide Survey: Californians and the Future

About the Program
PPIC's latest survey looks at Californians' views of the future of their state—both near– and long–term. It touches on the post–election landscape, including the state budget and water policy. It also examines opinions on tax extensions, health care, higher education, and climate change. PPIC associate survey director Dean Bonner will highlight the findings, followed by a wide-ranging panel discussion on the most pressing issues facing the Golden State.

The survey was funded by the Blue Shield of California Foundation, the California Postsecondary Education Commission Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, and the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.

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