California high school graduation requirements not aligning with CSU/UC standards
California is among the many states with high school graduation requirements that are not aligned with admissions to the state public university system, a recent report concludes.
The report, “Are High School Graduation Requirements Really a Ticket to College and Work?,” by the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, determined that a national “preparation gap” graduates public high school students in many states who do not qualify for admission to a state university.

“By at least one measure — rising high school graduation rates — educational attainment in the United States is the highest it has ever been,” the researchers said. “Without subsequent increases in college graduation, youth employment and civic participation rates, however, questions persist around the quality of education that the high school diploma represents.”

To reach their conclusions, the researchers reviewed coursework requirements for a basic, non-advanced high school diploma for each state. They also assessed whether those courses met requirements for admission to the state’s public university system and career-readiness benchmarks.

California graduates
In California, the University of California and California State University systems require three years of math but to receive a high school diploma a student only needs two years of math (one of just three states with this standard). As a result, students can have trouble qualifying for admissions to California’s four-year college campuses and can also be underprepared for careers or college.

In addition to mismatched math requirements, the report cites California as the only state in the nation that fails to meet college expectations in English years of study. The state’s public university system requires four years of English, while a basic high school diploma mandates just three years. In other subject areas, California also lagged behind public college admissions requirements in fine arts and career and technical education. More positively, California’s elective course requirements match those for the public university system, and its social studies requirement exceeded those for the university system.

The report noted that these gaps between high school graduation and college admissions requirements particularly affected schools with high student–counselor ratios. California presently has one of the highest counselor caseloads in the United States due to budget cuts during the Great Recession. This is important to note because these schools lack the resources to effectively advise and guide students onto a path where they will be able to qualify for admission into a CSU or UC.

Overall, a look at California Department of Education data reveals that four-year cohort graduation rates increased from 75 percent in 2009–10 to 84 percent in 2015–16, with significant gains for students of color, English learners and students from low-income backgrounds. However, less than half of all students who graduate have met UC and CSU entrance requirements (47 percent during the 2016-17 school year), with significant lower rates for students of color, English learners and low-income students. The public high school graduation requirements include a minimum three years of both English and history/social science, two years in both math and science, and one year of either visual or performing arts, a foreign language or career and technical education. Local educational agencies can also set additional requirements on top of the minimum, and 63 percent of the state’s school districts do so, a helpful step district leadership can take in guiding students to the minimum requirements for California public university admission. The PPIC said California last updated its graduation requirements in 1966, but “in the absence of changes at the state level, California’s public school districts and four-year institutions have taken the lead.”

The report offers steps states can take to address the gaps in alignment between high school diplomas and college admissions criteria. They include: Ensuring clear alignment of the requirements for high school graduation with the admissions requirements for state public university system; requiring completion of the 15-credit college-ready coursework required by most public university systems to receive a standard high school diploma; publishing graduation rates disaggregated by student group and diploma type; ensuring that all districts have the resources and educators to offer the courses and preparation needed for students to meet the requirements for both standard and career readiness-diplomas; and developing systems to monitor districts on appropriate methods to collect and analyze graduation requirement completion.