New Study Finds College Affordability a Top Concern for Californians

by John McDonald
UCLA GSEIS Professor Cecilia Rios-Aguilar leads new PACE/Rossier Research.

California voters rank college affordability as the 2nd most important education policy facing the state, according to new research released earlier this month by Policy Analysis for California Education and the USC Rossier Poll. Importantly, the research also details significant differences among different types of communities, with voters in rural areas saying that college affordability is the number one education priority for the state.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing low importance and 10 equaling high importance, voters in all but four counties in the state rated college affordability at 8.0 or above. Voters in rural areas of the state, including Siskiyou, Sierra, Tehama, Trinity, Mono, Madera, and Calaveras counties rated college affordability as the most important educational priority in the state.  The statewide average of concern about affordability was 8.43. Voters in urban counties such as Los Angeles rated concerns over affordability over the statewide average, while suburban areas such as Orange county rated affordability somewhat lower.

 “This new research provides us with detailed information about differences in concerns over college affordability,” says Cecilia Rios Aguilar, a professor of education at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. “While concern about college affordability is high among average voters, California’s geographic and socio-economic diversity suggests lawmakers consider local contexts when designing and implementing new reforms. The information about regional differences is critically important for policymakers to consider as they make investment and policy decisions.”

Cecilia Rios-Aguilar

The research brief also details the views of California voters regarding college affordability by race and income. Across the state, residents with lower reported income generally are more concerned about college costs than those with higher reported income. More than six in ten voters with incomes at or below $35,000 rated college affordability at 10.   Sixty-three percent of black voters rated college affordability at 10 on the scale of importance, closely followed by 57 percent of Latino voters, with slightly lower levels of concern for Asian and White voters. 

The brief also includes information about the impact of California’s College Promise Zones, and policy recommendations for implementation and evaluation steps to strengthen the effectiveness of those programs. The programs cover tuition for low income students based on where they live and attend school, and provide community colleges with additional funding to better support students.

“We really need to do more work to better understand these programs to be sure they are meeting the needs of students and making it easier to access the funding and resources they need,” Rios-Aguilar said.

The reports author’s also strongly urge policymakers to focus on equity as they make needed investments to address college affordability and access.

The research brief, College Affordability in Every Corner of California: Perspectives from the 2019 PACE/USC Rossier Poll is a project of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE). Cecilia Rios-Aguilar of UCLA, who is also a Faculty Director of PACE, was the lead researcher for the project. Research team members include Michal Kurlaender, a Professor of Education Policy and Chancellor’s Fellow at UC Davis and also a Faculty Director of PACE, Austin Lyke a PhD student at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Teresita Martinez a fourth-year undergraduate student majoring in Economics with a minor in Education at UCLA. Martinez is a research assistant for PACE.

Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) is an independent, non-partisan research center. PACE is led by faculty directors at Stanford University, the University of Southern California, the University of California Davis, the University of California Los Angeles, and the University of California Berkeley.