On Community Colleges

The nonpartisan group California Competes just released a map of California that details the reach of community colleges in more than one thousand zip codes. The map, which is online and interactive, includes detailed numbers about college attendance. It also provides an impartial analysis of the impact of colleges on populations with low college graduation rates. Some of the data it reveals is surprising.

First, the good news: Orange County is the second most educated region in California, behind the San Francisco Bay area. The county has the highest “participation” rate per capita (29% higher than the state average). This rate is high even for so-called “equity” zones, where there are few college graduates.

The not-so-good news: community college participation in Los Angeles County is 5% lower than the state average and 26% lower than Orange County’s. If Los Angeles had the same per capita participation as Orange, it would have 110,000 additional students in its community colleges.

Data about the state’s poorest regions is less surprising. The Inland Empire, for example, has the lowest enrollment.

According to California Competes—whose council is made up of mayors and business leaders— the state’s economic vitality depends on the number of people with college degrees increasing about 2.3 million by 2025. Its map serves as a tool to reach this goal.

We agree with its conclusion that the state should develop bigger incentives for community colleges to enroll more students in areas of lower participation and develop more resources so that high school students can gain access to higher education.

For many, California’s community colleges offer the best and only opportunity to attain a higher education.