Report: 70% California High School Students Will Never Achieve 4-Year Degree

A new study has found that 70 percent of ninth graders in California will never achieve a bachelor’s degree, though only 10 percent of them expect to not graduate from a four-year college.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that 85 percent of California parents want their child to obtain a college degree, and 90 percent of children entering high school in the ninth grade expect to achieve a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college.

PPIC found that despite massive increases in educational spending, poor academic preparation and social promotion are the main reasons California high school graduates have only a 30 percent college graduation rate.

For every 1,000 California ninth graders, only 823 will ever graduate from high schools:

  • 282 will enroll in a four-year college, and 362 will attend a two-year community college;
  • 145 will eventually transfer from a two-year community college to a 4-year college; and
  • 305 will eventually achieve a four-year college bachelor’s degree.

The State of California will spend $92.5 billion for K–12 education programs during the 2017-2018 school year. That works out to about $15,521 per student, up 66 percent in the last 5 years, from $9,370 per student in 2012-2013.

PPIC found most of California’s high school graduates are not “academically prepared” for college. Only 45 percent of high school students that graduated in 2016 had completed the “A-G” core college preparatory courses that are required for freshman consideration to the California State University and the University of California.

Even California high school graduates that met the academic requirements tended to perform poorly as college students. Of the California high school graduates that successfully passed the first college preparatory math course, “34 percent did not take the next one — even though 13 percent earned an A and 22 percent a B in the class.”

Close to 20 percent of community college students that were deemed academically prepared by passing the A-G classes in California high schools were “directed toward developmental — remedial — courses, which have been shown to slow progress” toward achieving a four-year bachelor’s degree.

The ineffectiveness of California high school A-G classes to prepare students for the rigors of college was also found to be correlated to “social promotion,” the practice of promoting a student to the next grade level regardless of skill mastery in the belief that it will promote self-esteem. PPIC estimated that eliminating social promotion would increase the percentage of students that were academically prepared for college classes by 18 percentage points.

Eliminating social promotion would reduce racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in student outcomes. PPIC stated that social promotion tends to explain why minorities tend to “drop off the pathway at every stage” toward achieving a bachelor’s degree.

PPIC found that the difference in math completion rates between the highest performing high school group, Asian Americans, and the lowest performing, African Americans, more than doubles by graduation. At the California State University, 35 percent of African Americans drop out in their first 2 years, versus only 19 percent of Asian Americans.

PPIC estimates that addressing high school social promotion problems would translate into 28 percent more community college transfers to four-year colleges, and 16 percent more California ninth graders eventually earning a bachelor’s degree.


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