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College Eligibility (see data for this topic)

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Why This Topic Is Important
Higher educational attainment generally leads to more employment opportunities, higher earning potential, and even better health (1). However, college preparatory resources—such as quality curricula, teaching, advising, and test preparation—are not available equally to all students, and certain groups are consistently underrepresented in higher education, including Latinos, African Americans, and low-income students (1). While progress has been made in narrowing these gaps, substantial disparities remain.

The benefits of college readiness, access, and completion extend beyond individuals to society overall. For example, California is projected to have a shortage of skilled workers in the near future, falling at least 1 million bachelor's degrees short of demand by 2030 (1). Improving college access and completion could also benefit society by increasing tax revenue while reducing economic inequality, unemployment, poverty, incarceration, and demand for safety net programs (1).
Although college completion is linked to better career potential, many young people find personal and financial fulfillment through other means, including military service, career education (occupation-specific training), and work.

For more information, see’s Research & Links section.

Source for this narrative:

1.  Johnson, H., et al. (2019). Higher education in California. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from:
Policy Implications
The benefits of higher education are well documented, ranging from better economic and health outcomes for individuals to increased tax revenue and reduced poverty rates for society as a whole (1). Higher education is especially critical in California, as the state is projected to have a serious shortage of skilled workers by 2030 (1).

Student success in high school and college starts early. When young people receive high-quality early childhood learning opportunities and continued educational support throughout childhood, they are more likely to have long-term academic success (2). Unfortunately, all children do not have access to high-quality child care, Pre-K–12 education, college preparatory courses, and other resources that prepare young people for college (1, 3). Low-income, Latino, and African American students have been historically underrepresented in higher education in California, and disparities persist (1). Other groups often face barriers to college, too, including students in foster care, those with disabilities, homeless students, English Learners, undocumented students (who can receive financial aid in California), and students whose parents did not go to college (1, 2, 3, 4).

Recognizing these challenges, California has enacted numerous reforms and initiatives aimed at reducing educational inequities and improving college preparation, access, and completion (1). While progress has been made, the work is far from done (1). Policymakers (at federal, state, and local levels), educators, school systems, and community organizations all can play a role in addressing disparities and ensuring young people have equitable opportunities for college success.

Policy and practice options that could improve college readiness, opportunity, and completion include:
  • Ensuring that all children have access to high-quality, affordable early childhood education, which can lay the foundation for later achievement and reduce disparities that begin early (2)
  • Creating long-term funding solutions for California's early childhood, Pre-K–12, and higher education systems, including reinvestments in public colleges and universities; also, ensuring equitable distribution of quality curricula, teaching, and other resources (1, 2)
  • Continuing to support schools in creating safe, positive environments and developing comprehensive, evidence-based systems to address students' academic, physical, emotional, behavioral, and other needs (2)
  • Increasing family outreach starting in middle school, promoting awareness about college preparation, enrollment, financial aid options, and resources to support families (1)
  • Strengthening coordination between K–12 and higher education to continue improving student transitions from high school to college and from two-year to four-year institutions; as part of this, ensuring that K–12 students have equitable access to rigorous college preparatory courses and resources (advising, test preparation, etc.), dual enrollment programs, and other opportunities to help with these transitions (1)
  • Reducing fragmentation in higher education leadership by creating a coordinating oversight body to set long-term goals and strategies, including plans to accommodate more students and improve transparency and accountability for institutions (1, 2)
  • Supporting efforts to help cover the full cost of college, including housing, food, and child care for students with children; these costs, plus rising tuition and fees, can put college out of reach for low-income students (1, 2)
  • Continuing to support the development of an integrated, longitudinal student data system for California, which can provide a wealth of information about the education pipeline and answer key questions about barriers to college enrollment, among other issues (1)
For more information, see’s Research & Links section or Policy Implications under the following topics: Reading Proficiency, Math Proficiency, and High School Graduation.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Johnson, H., et al. (2019). Higher education in California. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from:

2.  Children Now. (2020). 2020 California children's report card: A survey of kids' well-being and roadmap for the future. Retrieved from:

3.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Monitoring educational equity. Retrieved from:

4.  Dow, A., et al. (2019). In their voices: Undocumented in California public colleges and universities. Campaign for College Opportunity. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
In 2017, 47% of California's graduating 12th graders had completed the coursework required for University of California (UC) and/or California State University (CSU) admission with a grade of C or better. This figure remained lower than 40% between 1998 and 2013 and has risen steadily in recent years. Among regions with data in 2017, percentages ranged from 13% to 59% for counties and from less than 12% to more than 90% for school districts.

Inequities persist in college eligibility across racial/ethnic groups. In 2017, more than half of Asian American (74%), Filipino (65%) and white (52%) graduates statewide completed the course requirements for UC or CSU entrance, compared with fewer than 40% of their Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and African American/black peers, and fewer than 30% of American Indian/Alaska Native graduates.