Young adult whites, Asian Americans and Latinos born in California have earned bachelor's degrees at moderately lower rates than their counterparts from other states, according to a study being released today.
The findings indicate weakness in college achievement among native Californians that is often overlooked because so many people who move to the state hold bachelor's degrees.
According to the report from the Public Policy Institute of California, even the highest-achieving group it tracked -- young adult Asian Americans from California -- lagged somewhat in educational performance.
Based on figures from the 2000 census, the institute found that 67% of young adult Asian Americans born in other states had earned bachelor's degrees, compared with 62% of those born in California. The young adult category in the study consists of those ages 25 through 29.
Among whites, the bachelor's degree rate was 32% for young adults born in other states, compared with 31% for those from California. For Latinos, the rate among young adults from other states was 15%, compared with 13% for their counterparts from California.
Deborah Reed, the study's author, attributed the weaker college achievement among California natives to low public spending on preschools and K-12 education, along with low family incomes and other factors.
"Ultimately we end up with these differences in who gets a college degree, but the problem really starts way back in the beginning, before students go to kindergarten," Reed said.
However, she noted that so many people moving to the state have graduated from college that 30% of all young adult California residents hold bachelor's degrees. The overall figure for the 49 other states is 28%.
Joni Finney of the nonprofit National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in San Jose said the state's heavy reliance on its community colleges may also hurt. Students at those two-year schools often face difficulties in transferring to four-year colleges, she said.
Reed acknowledged that some of the "born in California" young adults included in her figures undoubtedly left the state as young children. However, she said there was no more precise gauge for determining from census figures the bachelor's degree attainment of California-educated students.
To test her findings, Reed looked at young adults born in California and living in the state as of 1995. She found that the percentage of bachelor's degree recipients in that group was even lower, albeit only slightly.
Among some demographic groups, there were exceptions to the general pattern. For young adult blacks, the percentage earning bachelor's degrees was 15% around the nation and for the California-born.
The study also showed that Californians of all racial and ethnic groups, like their counterparts across the country, increasingly earned bachelor's degrees in the 1990s. Among the California-born, the rate climbed from 21% in 1990 to 25% in 2000.
Nevertheless, the college achievement gap widened between higher-performing whites and Asians and lower-performing Latinos and blacks.
The report found that among the California-born, the percentage earning bachelor's degrees jumped over the decade from 53% to 62% for Asians, and from 23% to 31% for whites. By contrast, the figures rose from 10% to 13% for Latinos, and from 11% to 15% for blacks.
She said a possible reason for the widening gap could be the ban California imposed on affirmative action in public college admissions during the 1990s.
William G. Tierney of USC's Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis noted that large numbers of Latinos are concentrated in poor-performing public schools in Southern California. He said the inability of urban public schools to prepare students for rigorous college courses "is a chronic problem that is moving toward a crisis."
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An analysis of U.S. census data shows that smaller percentages of young adults born in California earn four-year degrees than those born in other states.
Percent with bachelor's degrees*:
Born in Born in California another state All 25% 28 Asians 62 67 Filipinos 40 49 Whites 31 32 Blacks 15 15 Latinos 13 15 Native Amer. 11 10
* Ages 25 to 29 as of the 2000 census Source: Public Policy Institute of California