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California colleges face 'serious challenges,' report says

February 12, 2009 | 12:37 pm

California’s historic leadership in national higher education is in serious decline, with the state failing to provide a new generation of low-income, primarily Latino and immigrant students with a college education, according to a report released today.

While California ranks third in the nation in the percentage of those 65 and older with an associate's degree or higher, its ranking drops to 29th for the 25-34 age bracket. Unless the pattern is reversed, the state will not have the skilled work force to compete in the global marketplace, the study warned.

"We’re facing some really serious challenges and it has to do with not getting our younger generation educated at the same rate as other generations," Nancy Shulock, coauthor of the report and executive director of Cal State Sacramento’s Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy, said during a conference call to discuss the report. "We don’t think the budget crisis can be an excuse not to act."

Getting a college education in California increasingly is a matter of where you live, Shulock said. The Inland Empire and Central Valley, the fastest-growing parts of the state, lag behind Orange County, the Sacramento Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area in college preparation and participation, the report by researchers at Cal State Sacramento said.

But the statewide picture is also dismal, she added. The state ranks 40th in the nation in the rate of high school graduates going directly to college, 45th in high school enrollment in advanced science and math classes, and almost last in the number of students earning college degrees and certificates.

Much of the problem stems from the state’s reliance on its two-year community colleges, which are already educating far more students than they can pay for. With the California State University and the University of California capping enrollment, the fear is that more sophisticated students will push out less advantaged students for whom a two-year campus is the only option.

"It becomes competition for scarce seats and the fear is the less well prepared will lose out," Shulock said.

-- Gale Holland