Mind The Gap:

Mind The Gap:

Delivering on California's Promise for Higher Education

For the past 3 years, the state has tread water in terms of closing the degree gap. A degree gap is bad for the economy, our citizenry, and the state as a whole.

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This report presents revised data on what California's degree gap will look like in 2025.


In 2012, California Competes declared that California will face a gap of 2.4 million college credentials by 2025. Much has changed in the last three years—the economy, the size and composition of the state's population, and the perceived importance of higher education for getting a good job—prompting us to revisit the state's progress in closing the degree gap. Explore how the gap changes below.

Less time, more to do

In order to close the 2.4 million degree attainment gap, we need to increase the number of degrees by roughly 10% per year, every year for the next 10 years.

  • In the chart to the right, the blue shows the number of degrees the state is projected to produce (i.e. 298,400 in 2025).
  • The green depicts the number of degrees produced each year, if we increased production by 10% each year (i.e. 796,800 in 2025).
  • The red shows how many degrees would be added in total by the 10% increases. In 2016, after the first 10% increase, the state would add 41,080 degrees but by 2025, 2.4 million degrees would be added, closing the degree gap.

Unfortunately this is an unlikely situation. The state has less than a decade to make massive changes and the students who will theoretically graduate from college in 2025 are already in middle school.

The Degree Gap

Projected, Needed & Cumulative
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Bachelor's Degrees


Between 2004 and 2013, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded per year by California-based colleges and universities overall has grown by a little more than a quarter, from a total of 141,900, to 180,600. While counting the total number of bachelor's degrees is important, a lot can happen underneath these totals. Hover over the infographics to explore trends in more detail.

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A look at majors...

Business and marketing remained the most popular choice for a bachelor's degree while, surprisingly, only 2% of graduates majored in computer and information sciences.

If you look at the top ten majors, you'll notice that with the exception of health professions, which nearly tripled in the last ten years, all of the majors were listed in the top ten in 2004. Surprisingly, computer and information sciences has slipped from 8th place to tied for last. The data show that both the producers and the emphasis within the computer and information sciences field have changed significantly over the last ten years. UC now dominates the computer science sub-major while CSU produces almost 50% fewer computer science degrees than it did in 2004. For-profit institutions have staked a claim in the computer in computer software and media applications major and are the only institutions offering the major computer systems analysis.

Top Ten Majors

2004 - 2013
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Computer and Information Sciences (CIS)

View data by year:
2004
2013
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The Tally
The total number of CIS majors per segment.
UC Total
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CSU Total
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Non-Profit Total
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For-Profit Total
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Background of Graduates

While Latinos and Asians receive degrees in roughly even numbers, most California bachelor's degree recipients are White students. Only 4% of bachelor's degree recipients are African American.

Business and marketing dominated across all races. White and Asians are more likely to major in engineering than are Blacks and Latinos. By contrast Blacks and Latinos are much more likely to major in law enforcement and related fields than Whites and Asians.

  • Recipients identifying as American Indian/Alaska Native make up less than 1% of total recipients.
Return to Top Ten Majors

The Stats

Ethnicity


Percent of BA's 0%
Total Number of BA's 0
pie chart iconPercent by Segment 2013
NULLs in California’s BA Recipients, 2013
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UC 0%
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CSU 0%
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For-profit 0%
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Non-profit 0%
table chart iconMajors by rank and race, 2013

Race/Ethnicity of California's Bachelors
Degree Recipients, 2013

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Producers of Degrees

The dominant producers of degrees is largely unchanged, with the 23-campus California State University (CSU) system awarding nearly half of the bachelor’s degrees (about 45%), and the nine undergraduate campuses of the University of California (UC) carrying just over a fourth of the load. The private nonprofit segment confers about a fifth of the bachelor’s degrees produced in California, while for-profit institutions were responsible for about 7%. With roughly 70% of bachelor’s degrees being produced by California’s public colleges and universities, the state relies less on independent and private for-profit colleges than many other states.

Producers of Bachelor's Degrees Over a Decade

Rate of growth by segment
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Producers of bachelor’s degrees
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Sub-Baccalaureate Degrees and Certificates


1/3 of all the completed degrees and credentials counted in 2013 were associate's degrees or certificates

Though they are not discussed as much as bachelor's degrees, sub-baccalaureate credentials are also a critically important component of the higher education landscape, providing one third of Californians with more flexible options than the traditional bachelor's degree. Hover over the infographics to explore trends in more detail.

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A look at majors...

A huge proportion of non 4-year degrees are in the healthcare professions.

The largest increase in associates degrees and certificates was in the health professions major, which makes up 43% of all sub-baccalaureate credentials awarded in California, a very significant proportion. The second most popular major, protective services, only makes up 9% of all sub-baccalaureate credentials. Large increases in health professions credentials can be seen across the community colleges, nonprofits, and for-profits but it is most pronounced amongst the last segment, with a 250% increase from 2004 to 2013. At the for-profits, the most popular program was, by a wide margin, medical assisting, followed by nursing, medical administration, and dental support services.

Top Ten Majors

2004 - 2013
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Health Professions

View data by year:
2004
2013
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The Tally
The total number of Health Professions majors per segment.
Calfiornia Community College Total
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Non-Profit Total
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For-Profit Total
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Background of Graduates

African Americans are still underrepresented. Hispanic/Latinos are almost as equally represented as Whites. Asians are much less represented than they are with bachelor's degrees.

Healthcare dominates across all races while construction trades and paralegals were among the least popular for most races. One interesting category is security and protective services, where students show different preferences: Asian and nonresident alien students are much less likely to pursue security occupations, while it is a top ranking major for Latinos, Blacks and Whites. Visual and Performing Arts also had a unique spread, coming in first place amongst nonresident aliens, second amongst Whites, third for Asians, fifth for Blacks, and seventh for Latinos.

  • Recipients identifying as American Indian/Alaska Native make up less than 1% of total recipients.
Return to Top Ten Majors

The Stats

Ethnicity


Percent of AA's and Certificates 0%
Total Number of AA's and Certificates 0
pie chart iconPercent by Segment 2013
NULLs in California’s BA Recipients, 2013
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Community Colleges 0%
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For-profit 0%
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Non-profit 0%
table chart iconMajors by rank and race, 2013

Race/Ethnicity of California's Sub-Baccalaureate
Degree Recipients, 2013

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Producers of Degrees

In just one year, from 2010 to 2011, there was a nearly 70% increase in the number of sub-baccalaureate credentials conferred by California’s for-profit institutions

As a result the for-profit share of sub-baccalaureate credentials has now over taken that of community colleges. This may have long term implications for the kinds of wages these workers might need to earn, since they will likely amass much more educational debt than their peers at modestly priced community colleges. The recent collapse of Corinthian College and decision by the U.S. Department of Education to provide debt relief to former students demonstrates how the high cost model of for-profits results in significant debt with limited high wage returns for graduates.

Producers of Sub-baccalaureate Credentials Over a Decade

Rate of growth by segment
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Producers of sub-bachelor’s degrees
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Policy Recommendations


Our analysis of the looming degree attainment gap and our examination of trends in both the majors and producers of degrees suggest several potential policy recommendations.

The objectives of our recommendations are three-fold. First, they are intended broadly to increase the number of students obtaining degrees. Second, these recommendations are meant to ensure that, as California produces more degrees, those degrees more closely align with the state's educational, workforce, and civic needs—both regionally and statewide. Third, our recommendations compel the state to pay special attention to students who are traditionally underrepresented but increasingly defining the landscape of our colleges and communities. In short, our recommendations seek to balance the demands of a broad, statewide public agenda for higher education with a desire to promote increased access and greater equity for students, without which the state's prospects for economic vitality and social cohesion will be diminished.

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Policy Recommendations

Reflecting the consensus among policy researchers, our recommendations for the state of California are anchored by four overarching priorities: to increase access to college, improve and accelerate pathways that promote degree completion, reform governance to improve college productivity, and make wise and targeted state investments in higher education. In the coming months, California Competes will develop full policy briefs on the recommendations proposed below.

Develop a system for reaching out to adult learners.

The number of people now needed to close the attainment gap by 2025 requires California to expand its definition of a traditional student and more aggressively recruit adult learners, particularly those with some college and partial credit, to complete college.

We propose that California create a centralized mechanism, preferably through a higher education coordinating entity, to identify older adults interested in completing a degree or credential or upgrading their skills. This would necessitate developing a robust system for assessing prior learning, since research shows that adults with partial college credits are 2.5 times more likely to complete a degree. It would also require that the state itself consider carefully how to provide for targeted enrollment growth to accommodate an increased number of degree seekers.

To maintain a commitment to equity, this system might include collaborations with other state agencies, such as Department of Veterans Affairs or the Division of Parole through the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, to help target adults with the most unmet need for higher education. The recently developed community college Growth Funding Formula could be effectively utilized to conduct additional outreach to those with some college who need to complete a degree. California might also consider concomitant changes in financial aid policies—such a providing full tuition to financially needy adult students with 18 credits or fewer to complete their degrees—to facilitate more rapid degree attainment.

Provide funding to pilot test 3-year bachelor degrees.

Largely in response to high college costs, there is an emerging literature on how to graduate college students in three years rather than four.

These proposals vary in nature, with some arguing that three-year degrees should be a new standard in higher education, and others advocating it as a more targeted approach for specific majors. Here in California, three-year degrees have been implemented by CSU Monterey Bay, in partnership with Hartnell Community College, to deliver a computer science degree. The program, which prioritizes enrollment among Latino students, won an Award for Innovation in Higher Education in 2015. A pilot test promoting three-year degrees would direct CSUs and UCs to design programs, potentially in partnership with their local two-year institutions, to identify majors and develop appropriate curricula. The state should provide financial support to help faculty and colleges revamp curricula and course scheduling practices, and couple that support with mentoring and professional development resources for those starting new programs. The state might also consider providing bonuses to those institutions that effectively graduate students in three years and meet a broader set of equity goals by graduating low- income and traditionally underrepresented students.

Create a statewide higher education Coordinating Entity.

Current events (such as the debate regarding the UC tuition increase and California's short-lived innovation prize) continue to make the case for a statewide coordinating entity—one that can articulate and uphold a broad public agenda for higher education, create a mechanism for ensuring that its segments are accountable to that agenda and spur innovation to close the degree attainment gap.

As discussed in California Competes' report "Charting a Course," there are any number of organizational structures that could be adopted to provide this kind of longer-term planning and oversight, while increasing the coordination between higher education systems and institutions. The main responsibility of that entity would be to view higher education through a cohesive statewide lens rather than a siloed, segmental perspective by:

  • Projecting state needs for an education workforce;
  • Identifying gaps between expected graduates and state needs;
  • Developing cost-effective strategies for helping to close the gap and allocating higher education resources wisely, both within and amongst the educational segments; and
  • Developing proposals for increased system and institutional accountability.

Finally, essential to accomplishing any of these goals is creating a comprehensive, student-level data system (inclusive of P-12 and labor market data) to provide accurate information on student progress, institutional outcomes, and especially labor market information to better inform state investments in various academic programs.

Promote full time enrollment, particularly at community colleges and the CSU.

Significant research has been conducted to show that students who enroll full time have greater retention and are more likely to persist and complete college than those who attend part time.

Several states, including Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota, have created programs that promote full-time enrollment for students. Policies such as flat-rate tuition for a minimum number of credits, while common in other states, are not consistently deployed in California. There are other strategies, such as "intrusive advising" or learning communities, that could be coupled with financial incentives and other supports to encourage degree completion. Incentives and supports could include aid to cover non-tuition related expenses (i.e., food, books, housing) to reduce the likelihood of students having to work part time, free and reliable transportation, incentive grants, and daycare for children and/or siblings. California should examine whether particular institutions or courses of study might lend themselves to such an approach.

California CompetesHigher Education for a Strong Community

The future of California is dependent on developing the talent and productivity of Californians through higher education, the keystone of California's diverse economy.

Our colleges, universities and professional training programs have provided the intellectual and technical know-how to make California a hub of innovation and job creation. To remain economically competitive and socially cohesive, we must create better pipelines from the opportunity of college and professional training to advancement in good-paying jobs. We can sustain our vibrant communities and secure a stronger economy by investing in developing the talent whose creativity, engagement, innovation, and industriousness match the needs of the 21st century. California Competes develops non-partisan and financially pragmatic recommendations for improved policies and practices in California higher education.

The Council

California Competes is guided by a council of independent business and civic leaders to review the postsecondary education and training needs required for a vibrant future state economy and to identify financially pragmatic avenues for addressing those needs.

Aida Alvarez
Former Adminstrator, U.S. Small Business Administration
Elizabeth Hill
Former California Legislative Analyst
Lenny Mendonca
Senior Fellow, The Presidio Institute
Director Emeritus, McKinsey & Company
Bill Bogaard
Former Mayor, Pasadena
Paul Hudson
Founder, Paul Hudson Consulting
Mike Roos
Founder & Chief Consultant, Mike Roos & Company
Kim Belshé
Executive Director, First 5 LA
Steve Koblik
Former President, Huntington Library
Bob Foster
Former Mayor, Long Beach
Ashely Swearengin
Mayor, Fresno
Ken McNeely
President, AT&T California