America may be “The Land of Opportunity,” but ever since the Gold Rush of 1848, when the name California first came to everyone’s attention, the Golden State has been the symbol of the American Dream. It’s also the center of American higher education – New England and the Ivy League may have started higher ed in the US, but California has perfected it, with a system of public colleges and universities that is second to none, and some of the world’s foremost private research universities, polytechnic institutes, and liberal arts colleges.
California: Diversity and Responsibility in Higher Education
First of all, California is big, in every way – one of the biggest states in landmass, population, and wealth. In fact, if California were an independent nation, its economy would be top 10 in the world, and its population would be in the 35 highest. California is also one of the most diverse states – more than a third of the population is Hispanic or Latino, with large populations of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans. Socio-economic diversity is also wide; California’s Silicon Valley is one of the wealthiest regions in the world, while vast agricultural, rural, and manufacturing regions include large populations of blue-collar workers.
That creates a huge responsibility for the higher education system; California’s colleges and universities have to meet the needs of traditional high school graduates, working adults, first-generation students, minority students, international students, career-changing professionals, and everyone else. Students need programs in fields ranging from nursing and healthcare to business and law, from wine-making to film-making. California is the center of film, music, and entertainment; the hub of the tech economy; one of the most productive agricultural states in the US; and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
Higher Education in California
The National Center for Education Statistics shows more than 450 degree-granting schools, colleges, and universities in California, from 4-year public universities and liberal arts colleges to for-profit schools and colleges. Nearly half of all traditional-aged students in the state are enrolled in some form of post-secondary schooling. Seeing the need for support for nontraditional students, California has also paved the way with numerous initiatives; nearly 70% of students in California colleges transfer from community colleges, and the vast majority are nontraditional students.
California has two of the most respected public higher education systems in the US – the University of California System, and the California State University System, both of which are among that 5 largest systems by student population and number of institutions. Including UC Berkeley and UCLA – two of the nation’s Public Ivies and California’s foremost public research universities – along with the many regional campuses of the CSU system, California’s public colleges and universities are world-changers.
California’s state government has driven online education in the state in recent years, pouring millions of dollars into the University of California and California State University systems. Many CSU schools, in particular, have achieved worldwide recognition for their online programs, using technology to reach California’s diverse student bodies. Other institutions, like California Baptist University, Brandman University, and USC have revolutionized private online education.
Paying for College in California
California is home to some of the greatest technological institutes and private colleges in the world – institutions like Stanford University, the University of Southern California, and CalTech. These universities have been central to tech education, and graduates can trust that their degrees will bring them a return on investment that makes their tuition costs well worth it – if they pay any tuition at all; generous financial aid, grants, and scholarships mean that many students owe nothing when they graduate. USC, for instance, is one of the most economically diverse institutions in the nation, thanks to merit and need-based financial aid that meets almost all of a student’s needs.
With an excellent system of community colleges, public colleges and universities, and private institutions who combine generous financial support with excellent job market resources, California has long dominated best value rankings. Average costs (according to the College Board) for full-time undergraduates in California’s public universities is just under $10,000, slightly below the national average, and students received nearly $2 billion in grant aid in 2014-15.