College access & postsecondary success
Preparation for college and career is critical for both individual and societal economic prosperity. Yet, educational attainment is not sufficient to meet economic demand and educational opportunities are not equally distributed. State policymakers and education leaders across the state are working to increase opportunity and improve student outcomes.
At the heart of these efforts is better alignment of California’s K–12 education system with higher education systems and the labor market to ensure successful transitions for young adults between high school and postsecondary pursuits.
In this topic area, PACE researchers investigate students’ educational trajectories and the state and local endeavors to decrease disparities in access to educational opportunities and improve student success in college and career.
In the last decade, California implemented major reforms to improve outcomes for all students. As detailed in a primer on K12 education, curricular changes include the Common Core State Standards adopted in 2010 and the aligned Smarter Balanced Assessments implemented in 2014-15. In addition, California revamped its school funding and accountability mechanisms with the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula and Local Control and Accountability Plans in 2013-14 to align fiscal activities with local needs in order to improve student outcomes. Finally, the California School Dashboard, with multiple measures of school quality, was launched in 2017. Recent survey results indicate that California superintendents, principals, and voters support these reforms despite implementation challenges.
Recent reports illustrate the multiple ways in which college and career readiness is defined in California. The State Board of Education adopted an integrated definition with the College/Career Indicator, which includes 8 pathways through which students demonstrate their preparedness for college and career. District leaders across the state suggest college eligibility metrics (i.e., A-G course completion, SAT participation, college application) are critical components for defining and measuring college readiness. Importantly, standardized assessments and high school GPA predict college outcomes, serving as important measures of college readiness. Finally, many educators submit that the true measure of college readiness is college enrollment.
In general, student outcomes are improving in California. According to recent research, the high school graduation rate improved from 79 percent in 2012 to 82 percent in 2015. Total enrollment in public colleges increased by 13 percent since 2006,with 63 percent of public high school graduates enrolling in college. Despite this steady progress, California lags other states on most measures. Moreover, California’s college readiness exam indicates that just 30 percent of 11th grade students met the college readiness standards in English language arts and mathematics. Importantly, substantial disparities exist across all measures of academic performance and educational attainment by student race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status and geographic location.
As described in a comprehensive literature review, the key factors in college readiness and educational attainment coalesce in four key areas: educational aspirations and beliefs; academic preparation for college; college information; and college navigation and resilience skills. Among these, academic preparation, especially in the area of math, is of critical importance. Yet, research demonstrates the disparities in students’ math course-taking, likely the result of student choice and structural constraints. Recognizing the important work of preparing students for college and career, districts across the state are working across all these domains to support the development of students’ dispositions and skills for successfully navigating postsecondary pursuits.
Due to fragmented and misaligned segments of public education, many students lack access to opportunities that ensure their success in college and career. This problem may be solved through better coordination between high school and college, between systems of higher education, and between education and economic development sectors. When effectively implemented, intersegmental collaboration is a key lever for change. Local partnerships, including supporting dual enrollment in high school and college, strengthen alignment in expectations between K-12 and post-secondary education and accelerate students’ progress. Advocates submit that intersegmental efforts offer opportunities to bridge research, policy, and practice to improve outcomes.
Many of the efforts to improve educational attainment and workforce outcomes are focused on K-12 systems. However, substantial research, as well as complex theoretical models, indicate that multiple factors predict and influence success in college and career. Success in college depends on both individual disposition and skills as well as structural or environmental factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, academic preparation, basic needs, social-emotional competencies, college knowledge and navigation skills, and institutional structures. Moreover, an oft-discussed aspect of college knowledge and institutional structures is the area of college affordability and financial aid.