Postsecondary to Prosperity: Examining California’s Opportunity Landscape

July 29, 2020

by California Competes

Enabling Californians to have a high quality of life, including economic and social factors, is an individual and public goal. Yet, this opportunity is uneven across the state. Where you live and your demographic characteristics shape your likelihood of being able to thrive. Education, particularly higher education, has been seen as a key lever in promoting Californians’ well-being and strengthening our economy and communities. However, advancing prosperity requires an understanding of who is flourishing and who is struggling. This first step can launch conversations, shift perspectives, reveal inequitable structures, and ultimately drive change. Data and analysis are not new to policy conversations. Yet, these conversations, while recognizing the large systemic barriers, tend to focus narrowly on specific systems or specific populations. To more fully understand the state of opportunity in California, we must examine opportunity afforded from a wider perspective. Opportunity is not siloed as publicly available datasets or state agency responsibilities are. Opportunity bridges gaps between K–12 and higher education, health care, and employment. Conversely, barriers to opportunity compound. Poor access to good jobs can impact the ability to purchase a home—decreasing the stability and wealth that grow with homeownership. To this end, in the California Postsecondary to Prosperity Dashboard, we analyze high school students’ college access, along with adults’ college access, and educational attainment generally; we examine postsecondary institution enrollment, retention, completion, and awards; we look at employment and the ability to earn a living wage; and, finally, we aim to build a picture of quality of life by examining housing affordability, community diversity, community economic vitality, health insurance, and more. To reveal issues of equity, we compare metrics across regions, by race and ethnicity, by gender, and by income. We include other disaggregations, as available. These analyses begin to shine a spotlight on the state of opportunity in California and are the beginning of a conversation.

In this report, we highlight a small set of findings from the California Postsecondary to Prosperity Dashboard. We focus on statewide racial and ethnic disparities, along with differences between regions. We invite the reader to examine factsheets focused on regions, race and ethnicity, and the state as a whole (they can be found in the appendix or linked on the Dashboard) to view a curated set of metrics or to use the online Dashboard to analyze an even wider set of metrics and disaggregation functions at the statewide and regional level.

Key Takeaways:

  • Californians live different experiences based on the following factors: race/ethnicity, region, gender, income, level of education, and whether in high school they were homeless, a foster youth, a migrant, an English learner, socioeconomically disadvantaged, or with a disability.
  • Latinx, Black, and Native American and Alaska Native Californians face particularly inequitable opportunities.
  • Some markers are equally bad or good across groups.
    • Housing is unaffordable for nearly everyone.
    • Nearly all Californians have health insurance.
  • The first step is to study the data and understand it; next, identify goals for key metrics; finally, develop and implement strategies to meet the goals

Read the full report from California Competes.

Visit the interactive data dashboard.


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