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Most California high school students aren’t college-ready, analysis shows. What it means for the Valley

The exterior of the Merced County Office of Education administration building is shown in Merced, Calif.
Central Valley Journalism Collaborative
The exterior of the Merced County Office of Education administration building is shown in Merced, Calif.

MERCED, Calif. — Most California high school students aren’t eligible to attend the public universities – and students in the San Joaquin Valley are among the most impacted, according to a recent report by the news outlet EdSource.

The report focuses on what are known as “A-G requirements,” which are classes needed for undergraduate student admission into a University of California or California State University campus.

The requirement involves completing a specific number of college-preparatory courses in subjects like foreign language, English and math. Some requirements include four years in English, two years of laboratory science and a college prep elective.

EdSource analyzed data, obtained by the California Department of Education, which showed less than half (44%) of the state’s high school graduates fulfilled their A-G requirement last year.

Black and Latino students had higher instances of graduating without the requirement, at 68% and 64% of respectively. Fewer White students graduated without the requirement – or 48% – compared to 26% for Asian students.

Where Valley students rank

Counties in the Valley ranked among the lowest in the state for meeting the college requirement, with many high schools graduating less than a quarter of their students with these requirements. In Merced County, although overall high school graduation rates are higher than the state average, those students who satisfy the A-G requirements are especially low.

In the Merced Union High School District, Merced High School reported 80% of students lacking the A-G requirement, followed by Atwater and Livingston High with nearly 73%. Golden Valley reported 67%, Buhach Colony reported 61% and El Capitan reported 50%.

Steven Tietjen, Merced County’s Office of Education superintendent of schools, said one reason for the low numbers could be a larger focus on career pathway courses.

“Some of our high school districts have focused on career pathways,” Tietjen said. “And there are times when one gets sacrificed.”

Latino students make up more than half of the student population in the district. Tietjen said about 30% of students in the county are English language learners, which could also set them back in taking grade-level courses when they start high school.

“You’re required to have four years of grade-level English to become an A-G qualified student,” Tietjen said. “So if you lose English your freshman year, what do you have to do? You have to play catch up and take it in summer school, or do a dual enrollment with the community college which is an extra effort.”

Several schools in Kern and Tulare counties showed less than 30% of students graduating with A-G requirements.

Solutions to the problem

During a Tuesday roundtable discussion hosted by EdSource, high school leaders said solutions to the problem may include raising awareness for parents and students and more attention to disadvantaged groups.

Aleka Jackson-Jarrell, who operates a college preparatory program, Heritage, at Adelanto High School in San Bernardino, said her program specifically encourages Black students and their parents to learn about A-G, after finding Black students showed disparities in their completion rates.

“We have to look at it through an equity lens because there are so many systemic barriers that keep African-American and Latino students from college,” Jackson-Jarrell said. “We have to hone in on counties encountering some of those barriers such as the educational barriers; just the lack of information of parents not understanding what A-G even is. Our students (are) not understanding what A-G is.”

Michael McCormick, superintendent of the Val Verde Unified School District, which operates in Moreno Valley near Riverside, said state policies could help challenge schools to focus on the requirement.

“If we can, through a policy solution or the stroke of the governor's pen decide that we need to teach cursive writing, why can we not do some sort of a policy solution for A-G?” McCormick said. “It seems like a viable path is there.”

Rachel Livinal reports on higher education for KVPR through a partnership with the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative.