Most high school graduates attend community colleges, PPIC finds

More than half of graduating high school students in California continue their academic careers at community colleges, making the ability to transfer between higher education institutions critical to attaining a four-year degree, according to the fact sheet “California’s Higher Education System,” released by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) in January.

In fall 2021, of the 2.3 million undergraduate students in the state, 45 percent were enrolled in the California Community Colleges (CCC) system — a decrease from pre-pandemic levels. Twenty-one percent of undergrad students attended a California State University (CSU) school in fall 2021 and 13 percent were enrolled in a University of California (UC) program.

Home to the largest four-year public higher education (CSU) and the largest public higher education (CCC) systems in the country, California colleges and universities account for 13 percent of full-time enrollment in higher education institutions across the United States, according to the fact sheet.

“CCC enrollment is racially and ethnically similar to high school graduates in the state; 35 percent of students are first-generation college students,” the fact sheet notes. Average tuition for a full-time student who is a California resident is $1,245 — the lowest in the nation. While three-fourths of community college students intend to transfer, just 28 percent reach that goal within six years. Of those who do transfer, most opt to attend public institutions where they successfully complete a baccalaureate program.

“New regional and statewide efforts including the Associate Degree for Transfer, expansion of dual enrollment and dual admissions programs aim to streamline transfer,” according to the fact sheet.

At the CSU level, roughly one-third of students are first-generation college goers, and the racial/ethnic mix of students is similar to that of the state’s high school graduates.

In the UC system, 37 percent of undergrads are first-generation college goers. Asian students are overrepresented and Latino students are underrepresented compared to the population of high school grads.

To learn more about higher education in California, view the PPIC fact sheet in English or Spanish.