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Lesson 9.8

After High School:
What California’s System Provides

Of every 100 ninth graders, the number that graduate college is…

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Image: Highway Crossing CC Randolf Rautenberg

Education is a journey on a road with many exits. We hope that all students persist through high school, but many do not. We hope that many go on to college, but many do not. We hope those who go to college will finish, but, again, many do not.

Rates of high school graduation, college enrollment, and college completion have risen steadily. But the funnel remains narrow. Rates of high school graduation, college enrollment, and college completion have risen significantly. (Compare this graphic to 2006). But the funnel remains narrow.

California has a long and well-respected history of providing its residents with affordable, lifelong access to postsecondary education. The largest and most visible investment has been a robust public system of colleges and universities. In addition, the state has funded adult education more generally. With recent budget cuts, California's road to and through college has become pocked with potholes. Whether by strategy or by circumstance, California’s postsecondary systems are overdue for some rethinking.

California’s "Master Plan": three college systems

In 1960, California's Master Plan for Higher Education created three systems of public colleges that still exist today. All three systems depend heavily on the state for funding to subsidize the California students who attend.

  • The University of California (UC) system is the state’s primary academic research institution. It provides undergraduate, graduate, and professional education to over 220,000 students at ten campuses. Admission is guaranteed to the top 12.5% of public high school graduates and all qualified community college transfer students.
  • The California State University (CSU) system has a total of 23 campuses and serves over 400,000 students. The CSU offers undergraduate and graduate education, including a limited number of doctorate degrees jointly with the University of California. Admission to the CSU is available to the top one-third (33.3%) of public high school graduates and all qualified community college transfer students.
  • The California Community Colleges (CCC) is this country’s largest system of higher education. The 112 campuses are organized into 72 districts that together serve 2.6 million students of all ages. About three out of every 10 high school graduates -- that’s over 100,000 students annually -- enroll in a community college and study alongside many older adults. Students who attend community colleges can earn an associate degree, complete a training or certificate program, or prepare to transfer to a four-year university. California's community colleges accept all applicants who are high school graduates, as well as any other adults who can benefit from attendance.

More extensive information about these public institutions, the students they serve, and issues they face is available in a series of concise briefs from The Campaign for College Opportunity. Private colleges in California also play a significant role, enrolling perhaps as many as 320,000 students.

Adult Education programs

California’s adult education system also provides a second chance to young adults who have not graduated from high school.

At the time that California passed its Master Plan for higher education, it also provided significant funding to public high schools and community colleges to provide adult education classes. The basic premise of that adult education investment is economic; the state’s adults need access to continuing education of various sorts, not necessarily tied to the completion of a degree or certificate.

Today, though funding for adult education has been greatly reduced, about 1.2 million adult students per year still enroll in adult education courses through the public schools, community colleges, and various community providers. Over a third of these adult students are studying English as a second language, with the support of federal funding.

Funding for adult education declined by over 50% during the Great Recession, spurring California officials to begin rethinking the state’s approach. Spearheaded by Governor Jerry Brown, lawmakers called for a transition to a system of regional partnerships for this purpose. In 2013 the state budget agreement stabilized adult ed funding and set a two-year timeline for the implementation of these partnerships.

One important goal of California’s adult education system is to give a second chance to young adults who have not graduated from high school. For example, the system offers students classes to prepare for the General Educational Development (GED®) test. The GED, a national test, is administered statewide throughout the year at approximately 190 testing centers. In 2008, 58,750 individuals took the test, and 73 percent passed.

Postsecondary success eludes too many students

The leaky bucket that carries students from kindergarten to college admission continues to leak after students reach college. As usual, it is tragically easy to predict which students will earn a degree and which will not. In a speech to Full Circle Fund members, Ted Mitchell, then president of the New Schools Venture Fund, made the point powerfully: “Imagine a hundred African-American boys in kindergarten. Based on current college-going and college-completion rates, would you care to guess how many of them will graduate from college? The answer is two.”

In a 2008 “National Report Card on Higher Education” California compared poorly to the U.S. as a whole in the proportion of students enrolled in college who completed a degree or certificate program.

  • Sixty-two percent of college students completed a bachelor’s degree within six years.
  • However, only 46% of black students and 53% of Hispanic students graduated within six years, compared with 66% of white students.

When colleges fail to help their students complete a formal program of study in a reasonable amount of time, they don’t just miss an opportunity to change lives. They also increase the cost of public higher education and reduce the benefits the state gets from that investment.

There are many explanations for this relatively low college success rate and state officials are trying to address them. As the next lesson explains, one critical component for students is their ability to pay for their college education.

Next Steps

The California State PTA provides resources to help plan for college, including info on application and testing assistance, school research, and financial aid.

Review

California's college system has contributed to the state's enduring success. Which is the biggest piece of this system, in terms of number of students served?

Answer the question correctly and earn a ticket.
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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
g4joer6 April 22, 2015 at 11:41 pm
First time I've heard the stats at the beginning of this lesson. Very interesting to learn that 16 out of 100 graduate from college.
user avatar
Caryn September 18, 2017 at 10:44 am
Agreed. And 2 out of 100 African American boys? That's a tragic and terrifying statistic.
©2003-2017 Jeff Camp
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