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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.

Statewide Survey

PPIC Statewide Survey Californians and Higher Education

By Mark Baldassare, Lunna Lopes, Dean Bonner, David Kordus

Californians give the state’s public higher education system high marks, but see affordability as a big problem. Most say higher education funding is inadequate but also believe that existing funds need to be used more wisely. While nearly all see the system as important to the state’s future, Californians are divided on whether a college education is necessary for individual success in today’s economy.

All Adults [PDF]
Likely Voters [PDF]

Time Trends:
All Adults [PDF]
Likely Voters [PDF]

The survey was supported with funding from the Arjay and Frances Miller Foundation, the Flora Family Foundation, John and Louise Bryson, Walter Hewlett, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.


Career Technical Education in Health: An Overview of Student Success at California’s Community Colleges

By Shannon McConville, Sarah Bohn, Landon Gibson

Health programs at California’s community colleges attract a large and diverse set of students and are linked to growing job opportunities in a generally well-paying industry for Californians with less than a bachelor’s degree. Many community college students who have earned career tech credentials in health care over the past decade have seen sizeable wage gains. Efforts to increase completion rates and close achievement gaps can expand access to health careers while helping the state meet its workforce needs.

This research was supported with funding from the Sutton Family Fund.


Health Training Pathways at California’s Community Colleges

By Shannon McConville, Sarah Bohn, Landon Gibson

State and federal policymakers looking to improve economic mobility and meet workforce needs have renewed their focus on career technical education. Health training is of particular interest—California’s community colleges offer a range of health programs and credentials and demand is growing for health workers with some college training. Students who earn shorter-term health credentials tend to see relatively low wage gains, and relatively few return to school to pursue higher-level training. Targeted outreach and support could help more students move along pathways to higher earnings.

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


Preparing Students for Success in California’s Community Colleges

By Hans Johnson, Marisol Cuellar Mejia, Olga Rodriguez

Community colleges identify 80 percent of incoming students as underprepared for college-level work. Fewer than half of these students advance to and succeed in a college course (44% in English and 27% in math). Concerns about poor outcomes have led to institutional reforms.

This research was supported with funding from The Sutton Family Fund.


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.


Improving College Graduation Rates: A Closer Look at California State University

By Kevin Cook, Jacob Jackson

Low college graduation rates come at a high cost—lower salaries, lower tax revenue, and fewer college graduates in the workforce. At California State University (CSU), the nation's largest university system, graduation rates have an outsized financial and economic impact on students and the state.

CSU has made strides in improving graduation rates, but there is more work to be done. The system continues to struggle with graduation gaps—underrepresented students are much less likely to complete their degree compared to their peers, and these gaps have not narrowed over time. Also, CSU's on-time (four-year) graduation rates still lag behind those of similar universities nationwide.

By 2025, CSU aims to further increase graduation rates while cutting graduation gaps in half. To assist campus planning for this goal, we identify several promising programs and policies. More broadly, the CSU Chancellor's Office must work with campuses to evaluate and expand successful efforts, and the state must play a role in supporting new policies to move the needle on graduation gaps and on-time graduation.


College Prep for All: Will San Diego Students Meet Challenging New Graduation Requirements?

By Julian Betts, Andrew C. Zau, Karen Bachofer, Sam M. Young

Several of California’s major urban school districts have adopted ambitious new high school graduation requirements, making college preparatory coursework mandatory. This analysis—which focuses on San Diego—finds that the new requirements are likely to help many students but may damage the prospects of others. San Diego and other districts can take steps to help lower-achieving students meet the new graduation goals.

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