More Than 60% of California Students Enroll in College After High School: Survey

Students who enroll in college are more likely to attend a community college over a four-year university, according to data compiled by the Public Policy Institute of California.
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Published on December 14, 2023
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  • Data on California high school students was compiled by the Public Policy Institute of California.
  • California's community colleges are the most popular avenue to pursue higher education.
  • Transfers from community colleges make up a significant percentage of attendees at state universities.

Just over 62% of California high schoolers enroll in college within a year of graduating, and those who choose to pursue higher education are more likely to attend a community college than a four-year institution, according to data compiled by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Thirty-two percent of high school graduates enroll in a California Community College (CCC). While only 12% attend the California State University (CSU), and 8% go to the University of California (UC).

Community college transfers also make up a significant percentage of new students at four-year institutions, with 29% of new enrollees at UC and 42% of new enrollees at the CSU in fall 2022 coming from community colleges.

Both UC and the CSU have transfer pathways to streamline the process of transferring from community college to a four-year university. Additionally, California Community Colleges have been working to expand their dual-enrollment programs, empowering students to take college-level courses while they are in high school.

In a conversation with California higher education leaders, Aisha Lowe, executive vice chancellor for the Equitable Student Learning, Experience, and Impact Office for California Community Colleges, said that dual enrollment was the key to getting more students into college.

"We see so much potential and possibility here and think that as we invest in dual enrollment in the years to come, we will see we will reap those dividends and have more students in general and more students of color continuing their educational journey after high school, not just with our colleges, but with our four-year partners as well," she said.

The data also shows that location, race, and socioeconomic factors play a part in whether students enroll in college.

College enrollment rates were highest in the Bay Area with a 72% enrollment rate and lowest in the Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley, with 52% and 53% enrollment rates, respectively. Community college enrollment was highest in the Central Coast region and Orange County.

Enrollment was less than average for low-income (53%) and English learner students (41%) and highest among Asian (85%), white (68%), and female students (67%).

Students applying to UC and the CSU have varying chances of being accepted, with acceptance rates ranging from 9% at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to almost 90% at the University of California, Merced.

The CSU has a slightly higher acceptance rate, with California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo having the lowest acceptance rate at 30%. However, the majority of schools in the CSU system have an average acceptance rate of 86%.