Your Back to School Reading Guide

Back to school is in full swing, so it seems like a pretty good time to burnish your knowledge of California’s higher education landscape!

The Campaign’s Guide to Higher Education was the first thing I read to familiarize myself with this state’s higher education architecture when I first arrived in California, so working on the refresh was actually a lot of fun! This was a collaborative effort, though, and Sara Arce (our Vice President of Policy and Advocacy) deserves the lioness’s share of the credit. Here is our guide to California’s three systems, 149 public colleges/universities, Student Aid Commission, success efforts, and so much more!

Zach Bleemer, who is on the Campaign’s Policy Research Advisory Board, wrote a paper about the impact of Proposition 209. There is also a summary of the paper, a tweet thread from Zach explaining it, an OpEd by Kevin Carey about it in the NY Times, and a tweet thread by Kevin about it… I will let you decide which of those you want to consume and in what order, but I will say a few things. First, the dataset that Zach has is outrageously cool. I could not be more jealous.

More importantly, he finds that Proposition 209 was disastrous for California’s under-represented (URM) populations, and it was not as great for White or Asian Californians as people think. The policy caused dramatic declines in the number of Black and Latinx even applying to the University of California (UC), and enrollments for students who did attend college shifted towards less prestigious public universities or towards private institutions. We see impacts in STEM attainment, and we see impacts on subsequent income and wealth.

This study is kind of a big deal. Also…GIDDY UP FOR THE YES ON PROPOSITION 16 CAMPAIGN.

There has been a ton of great stuff fleeting across my screens of late. Here are some highlights. First, a few briefs I highly recommend. The lengthier reports and articles below are at your discretion, but they are interesting and worth a look.

The briefs:

  • Friends at Excelencia in Education have a new resource out. They have a Latinx degree attainment goal of 6.2 million degrees by 2030. You can bet a solid chunk of those are coming from California. This tool lets you filter by state, then see a handful of indicators relevant to Latinx degree attainment in the given state. Check it out!

On the slightly heftier front:

  • Our partners at Just Equations have a new report on math placement at the CSU and CCCs. Specifically, they look at college websites and find a number of ways that colleges and universities could improve on their messaging. In particular, information is often hard to find, difficult to follow, outdated, and deficit-oriented. They provide a number of suggestions for improvement.
  • The Annenburg Institute released a working paper with a study on performance funding (PF) systems in Tennessee and Ohio. They use a “synthetic control” method to compare outcomes before and after the institution of outcomes-based funding models in those two states. I know less about how to construct these, but the interpretation is pretty straightforward. Basically, we can get an estimate for what we would expect for URM students without the policy, and we can get an estimate for what we would expect of non-URM students absent the policy. Then we can compare those synthetic estimates with the real thing.
    The news isn’t great. In Tennessee, the policy did result in fairly large increases in certificate attainment over what we would have expected without the policy. This is consistent with other research. What the authors find is that this bump was way bigger for non-URM students than for URM students. As such, URM students have lost ground as a share of certificate-holders. In Ohio, the results are not statistically significant, but they do suggest that PF decreased URM certificate attainment and increased non-URM certificate attainment. They find this same trend for associates degrees in both Tennessee and Ohio – decreases for URM, increases for non-URM – though, here too, the results are not statistically significant.

  • And two from the National Bureau of Economic Research that have been sitting on the proverbial stack for a while: First, some really interesting work on the availability of student loans. The authors find that increasing loan limits leads to greater re-enrollment and completion, higher earnings, and, perhaps counter-intuitively, lower default rates. They also indicate that student loan debt doesn’t predict home ownership or other types of debts. The consensus these days is that debt is bad and that student loan debt is out of control. I wouldn’t interpret this as necessarily flying in the face of that. I think we would all agree that student loan debt is better than credit card debt. Also, it’s important to think about the share of debt that is held by high-earners like doctors and lawyers. To me, an important idea is that educational debt isn’t that bad if you finish your degree and enjoy the earnings premium.

    Finally, this one is FASCINATING to me…I have to finish reading it, but I wanted to share it anyways. The authors look at Ohio around the time of the Great Recession. They find that around 10 percent of displaced workers enroll in higher education after losing their jobs. BUT…they also find that much of this enrollment may have happened anyways. When they compare the displaced workers to non-displaced workers who are similar, they find that the job-loss was the causal factor for only about 1% of those who lost their job. We’ve seen millions lose their jobs this year…so even 1% is a lot, but this one definitely challenges my prior assumptions.


Stay safe everyone!

Vikash Reddy



Vikash Reddy, Senior Director of Policy Research

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