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Closing Gaps in College Prep Courses for More Equitable Access to California Universities

PUBLISHED: Jul 20, 2023

New research supported by Tipping Point Community and published by Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), a nonpartisan research center, finds that less than half (48%) of public high school students in California successfully complete the courses required for admission to California’s four-year public universities each year.

Two studies, synthesized in a policy brief, document disparities by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status across and within schools in how students fare in accessing and successfully completing a set of 15 courses across subject areas—known as A-G courses—required for admission to the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems.

For example, Asian and Filipino students completed the A-G course sequence at nearly twice the rate of Black and Pacific Islander students. For each subgroup, there were also marked differences in completion by socioeconomic status. Schools in which 40% or fewer students completed A-G requirements had a greater concentration of socioeconomically disadvantaged students and a larger proportion of English learners.

The research outlines promising policies and practices from nine public school districts statewide, including the San Francisco Unified School District and Oakland Unified School District, that can be replicated to better support students in completing A-G courses. These insights are particularly timely given the State of California’s recent allocation of $547 million to support local education agencies’ efforts to close course completion gaps and that UC and CSU schools no longer consider standardized test scores in admissions, putting more weight on performance in courses.

“As the State of California makes significant investments to ensure that students from diverse backgrounds have a common pathway and the necessary support to attend California’s premier public universities, strategies from exemplary school districts offer a playbook that policymakers, superintendents, and school leaders can put to work immediately to support students’ success in A-G courses,” said Sam Cobbs, CEO of Tipping Point Community.

The reports were completed by researchers at the California Education Lab at the University of California, Davis, in collaboration with Patrick Lee, an independent researcher. The research was supported by Tipping Point Community; College Futures Foundation; Stuart Foundation; and the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. PACE is an independent research center that works with leading scholars and state and local decision makers to bridge research, policy, and practice to improve education in California.

The research is part of Tipping Point’s broader work in education to expand the number of first-generation, low-income students who graduate from college as a doorway to economic opportunity. Tipping Point invests in leading nonprofits and advances research and policy change to improve the education system to better serve all students.

Learn more about Tipping Point’s strategies to ensure equitable college access and graduation.

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