Testimony: California’s Future Need for Bachelor’s Degrees

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) projects that between now and 2030 California will fall 1.1 million bachelor’s degrees short of workforce demand. Closing this gap will require substantial improvements in access to four-year colleges, transfer rates from community colleges, and completion rates among college students. This testimony describes specific targets for California’s public and private colleges and universities to help ensure that the state will have a sufficient number of highly educated workers in the future. It also briefly describes a recent pilot program in California that offers bachelor’s degrees at community colleges and similar efforts in other states in the context of closing the workforce skills gap.

PPIC senior fellow Hans Johnson, in testimony before the Assembly Budget Subcommittee Number 2, has offered a scenario for how the state might close the workforce skills gap relative to its current baseline. Assuming that college enrollment rates, completion rates, and transfer rates remain at current levels, the state will produce 3.1 million bachelor’s degrees over the next 15 years. Our closing-the-gap scenario charts a course to producing 4.2 million bachelor’s degrees by 2030—a 36% increase over the baseline for the entire projection period. It should be emphasized that this goal cannot be realized unless the state substantially improves the attainment of degrees by currently underrepresented groups, including first-generation college students, low-income students, Latinos, and African Americans.

There are two important issues to note regarding our closing-the-gap scenario. First, successfully reaching this goal requires contributions from all three of the state’s higher education systems as well as private colleges. Our scenario sets the following targets:

Access to four-year public institutions will increase, with eligibility increasing 5 percentage points over current levels at UC (the top 17.5% of high school graduates will be eligible for UC, up from the 12.5% set by California’s Master Plan for Higher Education) and 6.7 percentage points at CSU (the top 40% will be eligible for CSU, up from the top third). These new eligibility levels will be phased in over an eight-year period.

The number of transfer students from community colleges will grow incrementally to 35% above baseline levels over a five-year period.

Completion rates will increase 9 percentage points at UC and 17 percentage points at CSU. At UC, completion rates for students who enroll as freshmen will increase incrementally from 83% in 2016 to 92% by 2026. Completion rates for freshmen at CSU will increase incrementally from 57% in 2016 to 74% by 2030.

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