New data available from the California Department of Education (CDE) on the college enrollment of recent high school graduates demonstrate the value of tracking student data across educational institutions and systems. For the first time in about a decade, CDE’s student data were matched to records collected from postsecondary institutions by the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC). Policymakers, educators, parents, and other interested stakeholders can now see information about how many of California’s public high school students enrolled in college, and which institutions they attended. Such information can help policymakers and school officials understand whether their efforts to support students’ goals to attend college are effective. For example, a report that provided a bit of a teaser for the newly released data revealed some interesting information that has implications for students, parents, educators, and policymakers:
- About two-thirds of California’s recent public high school graduates enrolled in college within about a year of graduation, and the overwhelming majority of them attended an in-state institution.
- The disparities in college attendance across California’s diverse racial/ethnic populations are substantial. Nearly 80 percent of Asian graduates enroll in college, with nearly a quarter of those students enrolling at a campus of the University of California. Black and Latinx students are less likely to enroll in college at all (58% and 56%, respectively), and more likely to attend a community college when they do.
- There are also substantial disparities across gender and income level. Female graduates are more likely than male graduates to enroll in college and attend a four-year university, and the same pattern holds for wealthier students when compared to their socioeconomically disadvantaged peers.
- There are disparities in both college attendance and type of institution attended across regions of the state, and across districts and schools within a region.
While the new data released by CDE shows how many students are enrolling in college and where, more detailed data on postsecondary enrollment patterns than those available through the NSC are needed to understand and improve students’ readiness for college, and their rates of progress and completion once enrolled. For example, CDE’s new data cannot answer such questions as:
- How many of the students who enrolled in college were placed in developmental math courses, or required supplemental supports to enroll in college-level math? How many of them succeeded in completing a college-level math course in their first year?
- Are the students enrolling in our public colleges and universities pursuing certificates and degrees that provide promising career options that can lead to family-sustaining wages and meet the needs of the state’s economy?
- What patterns of enrollment, coursetaking, program participation, or other factors best support students in making progress and successfully completing a degree/credential?
Fortunately, with the recent passage of SB 75, California has taken the first step toward building the kind of longitudinal data system that can address such questions. As we described in the final report of our series, California Education Policy, Student Data, and the Quest to Improve Student Progress, most other states have already developed such data systems, and are using them to provide students and parents with data to inform their college choices, to supply educators with information needed to improve programs and curriculum, and to help policymakers assess the effectiveness of education policies. Education researchers and policy advocates in California have been urging state policymakers to create such a data system for many years. Legislative committees have held hearings to discuss the merits of such recommendations and to gather advice from researchers and policy analysts. This advice, along with input from the stakeholder advisory groups called for in the legislation, can inform the workgroup that will soon begin making decisions about the structure and processes for combining California’s existing student data systems into a “cradle-to-career” system that can help policymakers, educators, and students and their families make critical decisions. Lessons from the many states that have already been down this road can ensure that California develops this critical tool in a way that supports equity-driven inquiry and action, makes efficient use of state resources and protects the privacy and security of students’ information.