Average Won’t Do: Performance Trends in California Higher Education as a Foundation for Action

January 2014

The Case has Been Made – Now What?

California’s public colleges and universities are benefitting from the passage of Proposition 30 in 2012, which provides for temporary tax increases through 2018 to help preserve education funding, and will likely benefit from increasing state revenues. While additional funding will allow the three public postsecondary systems (University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges) to increase class offerings and expand programs and services, more than additional money is needed to meet the immense challenges facing California postsecondary education.

Repeated calls have been issued for California policymakers and educators to take action to enroll and graduate substantially more Californians to meet the needs for an educated citizenry and competitive workforce. The latest two of these calls were in October and November, 2013. Both of these new reports stress the urgency of improving postsecondary attainment in California and the sad fact that California is lagging in innovation to address its educational challenges. Yet California postsecondary education continues to operate without effective state-level planning and coordination to heed those calls. Now we can add to that list the lack of data on which to base state-level planning and coordination. With the de-funding of the California Postsecondary Education Commission in 2011, there is no longer publicly available data on current patterns of student enrollment and progression from high schools to and across colleges and universities that would help families, educators, policymakers, and other interested stakeholders determine how best to improve postsecondary student success.

This report is part of a larger effort to begin to move into an action phase now that the case for change is so well documented. Here we provide an update of California’s trends in six performance categories that have become standard measures of a state’s postsecondary performance. Over the ten years that the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy (IHELP) has been tracking these measures, there has been improvement in only one area – the preparation of high school students for college – and California is still worse than most states in that category. Using this report as a baseline, we will develop a model public agenda for
California postsecondary education, drawing on lessons from the many states that have developed goals, plans, and strategies to meet their needs. If the model public agenda is effective in engaging public stakeholders to reach consensus about how public postsecondary education can best meet the needs of Californians, the remaining missing pieces will be the leadership and the infrastructure to implement and sustain new initiatives. To that end, we will produce case studies of effective state-level policy leadership for postsecondary education in other states that are applicable to the kinds of state-level actions needed in California.

A Three-part Project to Address Postsecondary Performance in California
Part I: Baseline performance data (this report)
Part II: A model public agenda for stakeholder discussion
Part III: Case studies of state-level leadership in public postsecondary education

Outline of Report
Intended as a resource for those interested in improving the numbers of Californians who earn postsecondary credentials of value from our public colleges and universities, this report includes:

 an assessment of California’s overall performance in each of six categories, based on data gathered by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems

 analyses of data from other sources that allow for a breakdown of performance by region2 and race/ ethnicity, in order to focus attention on the key variations that warrant policy attention

 a summary of trends in each performance area over approximately the past decade

 appendices to assist those with an interest in the details of the computations, including our methodology for determining California’s relative performance among the states.

Key Findings by Category
 While still performing worse than most states on national measures, state data show improvement in the area of preparing K-12 students for higher education. While that improvement extends to the under-represented minority populations whose college preparation has lagged, substantial disparities persist.

 California rates about average among the states on affordability, but substantial increases in tuition that have accompanied budget cuts in recent years have made it increasingly challenging for California’s students and families to pay for college.

 California’s college participation rates are comparatively high, but the rate at which high school graduates go directly to college has declined in recent years related to substantial cuts in the budgets of state colleges and universities.

 California’s performance on college completion is about average. The state has comparatively high graduation rates for full-time students, but performs poorly on the number of certificates and degrees awarded in relation to enrollment at community colleges.

 California experiences better than average public benefits from higher education, particularly in the form of a higher earnings premium for individuals with college degrees. However, while the share of the working-age population with a bachelor’s degree is higher than in many states, California’s relative position is declining as its rank falls with each successively younger age group in the working-age population.

 California’s state and local appropriations per fulltime equivalent student (FTES) for higher education are slightly above average, but the state ranks near the bottom in total revenue per FTES due to collecting less than half the national average in tuition/fee revenue.

 Across all categories for which data permit regional and racial/ethnic breakdowns, there are significant disparities that threaten future competitiveness. Black and Latino students continue to lag behind white and Asian students in levels of college preparation, participation, and completion, and the growing inland areas of the state generally lag the more urban coastal communities.

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