2021 State of Higher Education for Black Californians

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California has long been a land of opportunity, a place where determination and hard work are rewarded. Through the birth of the silver screen, the explosion of Silicon Valley, and countless other revolutions, California is always at the forefront of innovation and economic success. As one of the most diverse states in the Union, California has also been a place of opportunity—and challenge—for Black Californians who migrated from the South and other parts of America seeking economic opportunity and an escape from Jim Crow discrimination. Black Californians were critical to building the California we know today through their talent in the workforce, including their contributions to the aerospace industry, their talent in Hollywood, and their leadership in public policy and civil rights.

But California also excluded Black Californians from full citizenship and freedom through racist policies that legalized discrimination in housing, education, the workplace, and policing. Our state provided less than adequate public funding to schools attended by predominantly Black Californians, ensuring that too many Black Californians lacked access to high-quality schools and college preparation, and contributing to generations of poverty, mass incarceration, and limited social mobility. Acknowledging the impact of our history and the discriminatory and unfair funding, policies, and practices that faced—and in too many instances continue to face—our fellow Black Californians is the first step. The next step is to recognize that California’s promise and potential can only be unlocked when access to economic and educational resources are enjoyed by all. Ensuring a strong future for our state cannot be fully realized without ensuring a strong future for Black Californians.

In this report, we briefly discuss the social and economic reality faced by Black Californians before analyzing measures of educational access and attainment, noting that Black Californians face higher than average rates of unemployment, housing insecurity, food insecurity, incarceration, and poverty. We then examine measures related to college access for California’s Black high school students and the rates at which Black students, once enrolled in college, are supported to complete their degrees. We include recommendations for California’s policymakers and education leaders to ensure that equity is at the heart of their work and to ensure a system of higher education in which Black students matter.

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