Improving Equity: Increasing Baccalaureate Attainment of Underrepresented Students in California


Low-income and first-generation college students—most of whom come from racial or ethnic groups that have historically been underrepresented in higher education—are the face of California’s future. Although now the majority of high school graduates, their baccalaureate attainment rates are only one-third of those belonging to White and Asian students. Meanwhile, California faces a looming shortage of more than 1 million BA degrees.

Recent increases in enrollment and degree completion among historically underrepresented groups are not happening fast enough to keep pace with population changes. At the same time, opportunities for resident Californians have fallen victim to budget cuts, and these reductions in access have disproportionately hurt underrepresented students.

We are not making good on the promise of California’s Master Plan for Higher Education: that qualified students who wish to can access a viable pathway to and through higher education and toward the opportunities it provides.

This paper by Patrick Kelly, Dennis Jones, and Darcie Harvey focuses an empirical lens on the volume of change needed to eliminate gaps in baccalaureate achievement rates affecting California’s underrepresented minority groups.

Failure to address these gaps would worsen growing economic and racial stratification in California, with BA attainment as the dividing line between haves and have-nots.

California can and should turn this educational deficit around.

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