Opening the Door to Four-Year Colleges and Universities for More of California’s High School Graduates

This is an excerpt from an article published on on February 21, 2024.

By Ryan D. Smith, Ed.D., EOS Superintendent-in-Residence

In a recent report, EdSource shined a bright light on something that many California residents probably were not aware of: nearly half of the state’s high school graduates are ineligible to attend either of its public four-year university options, the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU) systems. The primary reason for this is that graduates in staggering numbers are unable to meet the course taking requirements for admissions, known as the ‘A-G requirements.’ The A-G requirements call for students to pass fifteen courses in various subject areas with a grade of ‘C’ or better in each to be eligible. It should be noted that being eligible does not mean a student will be admitted.

These findings are hardly a revelation to most school and district leaders or state policymakers. Virtually every school and district explicitly communicates that ‘College and Career Ready Graduates’ is an expected outcome. The article that separates the words ‘College’ and ‘Career’ is what matters most, because it means ‘both,’ not ‘either or.’ Likewise, the word ‘College’ is usually meant to be encompassing of both community colleges and four-year institutions, not either or.

For years, schools and districts have outlined detailed plans to improve A-G completion through the myriad of plans that are required to be developed annually, including Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAP) at the district level and School Plans for Student Achievement (SPSA) at the school level. Further, addressing A-G completion rates for all students and student groups has always been a key part of the ‘self-study’ process that all California public high schools go through as part of the accreditation process. Finally, California included the metric under the ‘College/Career Indicator’ indicator in its accountability model and ‘dashboard’ in 2018.

Despite all this, the problem widely persists. Why? It is obviously not due to a lack of awareness, willingness to act, or effort. Instead, it is the complexity of what it takes to move the needle beyond small incremental improvements like the ones realized in California over the last decade that makes it so challenging. I have found from my own experiences as an education leader for the last twenty years and from those of my colleagues that addressing a few key areas are critical for raising A-G completion to new heights, beginning with raising expectations and changing mindsets.

Cultivating a sense of belonging is key for ensuring the success of underrepresented and underserved students who may be accessing the more rigorous coursework associated with the A-G requirements for the first time. A supportive school environment, where students feel valued and connected, enhances their motivation and academic resilience. Positive and supportive relationships between teachers, staff, and their students are a crucial and essential element of a student-centered culture. Schools, with support from organizations like Equal Opportunity Schools through tools like ‘student insight cards,’ can tailor their approach, ensuring students are empowered to confidently pursue their educational ambitions. This focus on inclusivity and support is vital for students as they navigate these rigorous courses.

Read the full article here.