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Report 96-3: Changes in College Participation: Promise or Peril? -- Adding the Interstate Dimension: A Report by the California Postsecondary Education Commission Executive Director Warren H. Fox

Published by The California Postsecondary Education Commission

February 1996

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This Commission Director's Report provides an overview of some unusual shifts in student participation that California public postsecondary education experienced in the early 1990s. After the participation of recent California high school graduates in public postsecondary education reached an unparalleled level of 54.4 percent in 1989, this rate plummeted to just over 51 percent -- the lowest level in decades -- in three short years. The most substantial decreases occurred at the California State University for which the participation rate dropped from 10.8 percent to 7.5 percent over that period. While in recent years the participation rate at the State University has begun to recover, it remains below its previous level. In addition, a continued decline in the participation rate at the California Community Colleges has resulted in a lower overall participation rate for public postsecondary education.

During this same period, California institutions showed a major increase in "reverse transfer" students. Between Fall 1990 and Fall 1991, the number of students transferring from the public universities to the State's community colleges increased by 12,000 students. These larger numbers of reverse transfer students also appeared in Fall 1992, after which the levels returned to their historical level. No substantial increase in community college students transferring back to the public universities has occurred in more recent years to suggest that these "reverse transfer" students returned to complete their original degree objectives.

Another major shift in college participation occurring during this period was the interstate flow of students. The numbers of students entering California for college in 1992 was 10,000 students fewer than in 1988. Most of the decrease occurred among transfer students and among students enrolling in the State's community colleges. The number of new freshmen entering and leaving the State increased by nearly 4,000 students. Some 11,500 recent high school graduates left California in Fall 1992 for four-year colleges in other states while approximately 9,200 freshmen entered California and enrolled predominantly in independent colleges and universities in the State.

These shifts were dramatic and undoubtedly related to the State's severe economic recession during this period that contributed to disruptions in the admission process, course offerings, student financial aid, as well as major increases in student fees in public postsecondary education in California. The economy is recovering as does college participation seem to be. Whether the recovery will continue or whether the State has entered a period in which volatile changes will become the norm remains to be seen.

The Commission adopted this report on February 5, 1996.

Related Topics: Enrollment Demand and Capacity Analysis | Commission Operations

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