California Economy Will Slide Without Huge Boost in College Grads


By Tanya Schevitz
Calbuzz Education Correspondent

California faces a shortage of nearly one million college-educated workers by 2025 that will further devastate its economy unless education leaders act quickly to boost college graduation rates, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California report. Without these workers, employers will abandon the state in large numbers while start-ups will shun the state, the researchers said.

The report, “Closing the Gap: Meeting California’s Need for College Graduates,” notes that California already ranks low nationally in the percentage of its population with college degrees. The state is likely to slip further, at a time when well-educated Baby Boomers are retiring and populations of demographic groups with traditionally low college attendance rates are soaring, PPIC researchers Hans Johnson and Ria Sengupta reported.

Doom and gloom reports about California’s education system are a dime a dozen, but what makes this one different is that Johnson set forth a series of reasonable and measured steps to address it.

Far from the usual white paper call for huge new spending initiatives in education, the PPIC report offers a practical agenda for chipping away at a major problem, while acknowledging that sweeping new investments are unlikely at a time of economic turmoil, budget shortfalls and ever-increasing costs, with public universities and colleges already increasing class sizes and slashing student support systems.

Some of the state’s most skeptical education policy experts applauded the proposals in the report.

“None of this is rocket science,” Steve Boilard, director of higher education for the Legislative Analyst’s office, told Calbuzz, adding that he was uncharacteristically impressed by the report and its suggestions. “What we have to do is have a more productive education system.”

For example, the researchers said, raising the state’s college attendance rates slightly, from 56 to 61 percent, and modestly increasing transfer rates to four year universities would boost the number of college educated workers by 500,000 a year by 2025. Even more importantly, universities must improve their success rates with students they already have; raising the graduation rates of current students would yield major results to help head off the migration of jobs elsewhere, Johnson said.

In another recommendation, PPIC found that many students accepted into the 23-campus California State University are simply unprepared for college study. As a result, CSU in recent years has given an early placement exam to provide students a heads-up that they need more preparation before enrolling. This and related programs could help boost CSU’s graduation rate enough to yield an additional 200,000 graduates by 2025, benefiting employers and California’s battered economy.

Noting there are 1.6 million students in the community college system, researcher Johnson said even a modest increase in transfer rates could make a big difference. After years of hand wringing and little action in this area, and against a backdrop of steady reductions in transfer slots and cuts in programs like counseling, there are signs that higher ed officials are beginning to address the problem:

Although UC reduced overall freshman enrollment this year, the system added 500 seats earmarked for transfer students, while CSU has worked to bring more rationality to its confusing system of determining which community college courses are eligible for CSU credit. Also, all three higher ed systems recently established a taskforce to craft strategies for increasing the numbers of transfer students.

While the policy prescriptions seem relatively easy and straightforward, getting them enacted is quite a different matter.

Said the analyst Boilard: “It really just is having the political will.”

Tanya Schevitz is a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter who uncovered widespread abuse in the University of California’s compensation and disclosure practices while on the higher education beat. Her investigative reporting resulted in significant changes in university policies and practices.

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There are 5 comments for this post

  1. avatar Dana Gabbard says:

    Dan Walters has long championed the community college system. For once I think he is right–a small investment in it would generate huge returns for the state.

    Also the feds need to fully fund head start–one of the most cost effective programs ever.

  2. avatar Anonymous says:

    It’s ironic that as we read this piece, the CSU system has endured massive budget cuts that have led to campuses closing their doors to growth, excluding thousands of qualified students. In addition, the campuses are being forced to cut back the number of classes they offer, increasing class sizes, and generally making it even MORE difficult for students who work to find the classes they need to move towards graduation. It’s nice to see that an undereducated state is being recognized as a problem, but far from implimenting solutions, the current trends make this problem even worse.

  3. avatar Anonymous says:

    From the press release: “Two strong demographic forces account for this lack of progress: the retirement of the large and relatively well-educated baby boom generation and the population shift toward groups with historically low rates of college attendance and graduation—Latinos in particular.”

    That would be open-borders advocate and author Hans Johnson, who along the other elites sharing that ideology, including those in the media (like these blog owners), is responsible for a large population of poorly educated as a result of illegal immigration. California now has the highest actual illiteracy rate of any state in the county. Probably the greatest predictor of educational outcomes is the education of student’s parents.

    The politically protected government k-12 education establishment has demonstrated poor success in adequately educating this population. Not only do many not even graduate High School but large numbers of those that do who go to college aren’t really ready for college level work. Hence our college system has had to offer much in the way of remedial classes. And even those who do graduate often bear the consequences of their previous educational deficiencies. All college graduates are hardly the same. Go to a graduation ceremony and look at the ethnicities of those who graduate in math, science and other rigorous majors versus those who graduate in politicized social science majors.

  4. avatar Anonymous says:

    “Once upon a time…”, a CSU / Northridge professor of social demographics would count the number of CA Drivers’ Licenses not renewed or transferred to another state — second grade math, that — to ascertain the degree of “out-migration” from the once Golden State. Hope-fully, by now, higher math has been undertaken by asking EDD to provide that figure in near-real time re: the former CA employed who have been “over-qualified” to remain in a failed economy! Has that Phase II effort begun? Why not?

  5. avatar Anonymous says:

    Any updates on the Pasadena-based entrepre-neurial "University of the People" free, on-line undergraduate & graduate degree programs?

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