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Equity in Higher Education-The State/Regional Approach

Equity in Higher Education-Report Cover

Last year, Governor Newsom signed a historic $47.1 billion higher education package aimed at addressing equity gaps and increasing opportunities for all students in the state. The state has also recently passed legislation addressing disparities in college affordability and accessibility. As California continues to make progress on equity in higher education, data show that these gains have not proceeded evenly across regions and communities of color. Importantly, education inequities are still persistent and pervasive throughout the state. 

This report draws on both quantitative and qualitative data to better understand the current state of equity in higher education in California and its sub-regions. The report also focuses on the higher education advocacy infrastructure and network in the state, and how this network advocates for students. We explore the relationship between state level advocacy and regional efforts including coalition networks, coordinated activity, capacity building, and effective regional implementation. Additionally, we highlight promising initiatives and programs that are making immense progress in the higher education equity space. 

Importantly, the data shows an incredible increase in Latino students attending a California State University campus over the last decade coming from Los Angeles County. This is particularly notable considering that available data on Latino students’ A-G completion (coursework requirements to become eligible for admission to either the University of California or California State University) rates do not show a significant increase over time and that Latino high school senior enrollment has increased, but only slightly over the past few years for which data is available. 

Currently, Southern California high schools send the overwhelming majority of students to the University of California, though the highest A-G completion rates come from Northern California high schools. This is likely due to increased international and out-of-state enrollment, whereas enrollment in the California State University system tends to be heavily local. It is important to understand that while Southern California counties also send the most Black students to the University of California system, the absolute number of Black students remains extremely low across all years for which data was analyzed.

Southern California community colleges also send large amounts of transfer students to the University of California system over all years for which the data were analyzed, which was true across all racial groups. For Black students, in particular, Santa Monica Community College, located in Southern California, sent almost twice as many Black students to a University of California campus than the second highest enrollee institution. (It is important to note that while Southern California community colleges send the largest numbers of Black student transfers to the University of California, the raw numbers are still extremely small when compared to other racial groups, except American Indians/Native Americans.) American Indians/Native Americans were the only racial category for which sending community colleges spanned the state.

For the most part, while Southern California counties dominate where University of California students originate from, Alameda County in Northern California/the Bay Area is also a top sender for both University of California enrollments and transfers.

In terms of advocacy, qualitative data indicates that most processes tend to happen in a top-down fashion, with the feedback happening mostly at the governmental level (i.e., local educational agencies reporting data back up to the state). On the plus side, most state-level advocacy groups have the staff capacity to put significant energy into understanding various issues and the key players with which to engage, whereas most local organizations are very small and typically cannot take on large advocacy projects. On the other hand, there does not appear to be very much or very deep local involvement, which may mean that markers of improvement or success are not highlighted as much as they could be, and smaller organizations instead focusing on direct service provision..

This also ties in with the importance of capacity building and a need for information and resource sharing.  Capacity building was seen as an investment in effectiveness and long term sustainability. Additionally, many organizations were keenly interested in collaborating to increase their impact. Information sharing is key to collaboration, as the flow of information between organizations helps all levels stay up to date and be able to provide key data and data “translations” to other organizations as needed. 

One notable snippet was the comment by an interviewee that Southern California regions have to advocate hard; Northern California/the Bay Area already has the ear of Sacramento and Sacramento-level organizations. This is particularly interesting in light of the substantial numbers of students who originate from the Southern California region and enroll in both the University of California and the California State System, as well as the number of students who originate from Southern California community colleges and subsequently transfer into either of the two state systems. 

In large part, this report’s recommendations focus on increasing access, data reporting and availability, overall investments in higher education at all levels, and strengthening pipelines. While there is currently work being done on increasing access and which has shown promise, lessons learned from the AB705 and the SB2 process indicate that we can and should do more to help open doors for historically underrepresented students. And collecting disaggregated, longitudinal data would go a long way in understanding both the need, but also the impact of policies and programs on student success. 

Investment in higher education has been a longstanding issue in California. Affordability of higher education routinely comes up as a major issue, with the cost of tuition remaining a barrier to entry for many. And while funding from the state has been tied to increasing transfer rates (transferring from a community college can be a more cost-accessible way to graduate from a 4-year institution), the University of California system has had difficulty in meeting the transfer to freshman admit ratios. Thus investment into support such as academic and non-academic counselor positions could substantially benefit students who wish to transfer, and those who have successfully transferred and need non-academic support to ensure they can graduate on time. 

Finally, strengthening pipelines for both transferring as well as to the workforce can help students successfully prepare for their post-school lives. California’s higher education institutions have made the state a leader in producing a highly skilled workforce, and the state boasts an incredibly diverse economy with a high standard of living. Strengthening the workforce and career pipelines can help students be better prepared for their eventual post-college careers, including understanding the full range of job opportunities available to them.

By holding the doors to higher education as wide open as possible, we can begin to address historical and persistent equity gaps in educational attainment and access to good jobs.

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