Skip to content

COVID-19 has disrupted California Community College (CCC) students’ higher education plans, causing many to reduce their course loads or pause their education altogether. The CCCs serve high percentages of students of color and students with low incomes, and drops in enrollment can further narrow educational opportunities and undermine workforce development priorities statewide. While state and federal leaders have enacted policies to mitigate the pandemic’s effects on CCCs, the path forward for community college students requires more long-term investments that address their broader educational and economic needs.1

Chart title: American Indian, Black, and Latinx California Community College Students Experienced the Largest Drops in Enrollment

The number of full-time equivalent students (FTES) at the CCCs declined steeply compared to pre-pandemic levels — nearly 12% overall from fall 2019 to fall 2020, the largest year-over-year decrease in over a decade.2 An FTES represents one student who takes a full course load during an academic year.3 The decline in FTES reflects a drop in the number of students, a reduction in student course loads, or both. While all racial and ethnic groups experienced declines, American Indian or Alaska Native students had the largest drop (23%) followed by the drop in Black students (17%)­. Latinx students fell by 12%, representing over half of the total decline. Reductions from fall 2019 to fall 2020 vary across campuses and student groups. All but six colleges saw declines and ten colleges had drops greater than 25%, and the 19-or-under and the 20-to-24 age groups had declines of approximately 10% and 15%, respectively.

Loss of income due to job losses has particularly affected community college students.

Research shows that the pandemic affected students’ decisions to cancel or delay their education plans.4 Loss of income due to job losses has particularly affected community college students.5 The added financial stress on students’ budgets has disproportionately impacted Black and Latinx students, with many reporting increased food insecurity and having missed rent, mortgage, or utility payments.6 Moreover, online education challenges such as inequitable access to broadband have also made it more difficult for students to continue their enrollment.7

Policymakers can support community college students of color and those with low incomes by pursuing policies centered on robust retention, housing, food, health, access to technology, child care support, completing transfer requirements, and developing career training. State investments in community college students now will pay off as they continue building their careers, futures, and lives across the state, and ensure that a skilled workforce is available to support the California economy.


This work was made possible through the support of Lumina Fund for Policy Acceleration, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

Don't miss an update.

Join our email list!

Don't miss an update.

Join our email list!

Don't miss an update.

Join our email list!

Executive Summary

California is home to renowned public university systems, educating thousands of students every year and helping them build strong futures for themselves and their communities. The right to education is fundamental to the well-being of students and the larger society as research shows that more education can promote healthier lives and is associated with better employment prospects. Due to these benefits, California prospers when its high school students continue their education and attend college. With estimates showing about 40% of jobs in California will require a bachelor’s degree in less than a decade, access to higher education is critical to California’s prosperity.

However, California is failing to set students up for this future. This report shows that California’s public universities do not provide equal access to higher education based solely on merit. This problem is due in part to course requirements that create an inequitable barrier to admission for many students who do not have an equal opportunity to fulfill them successfully. The report also explores data concerning which students are most affected by this barrier and offers recommendations for how the universities and public high schools can improve college access for all of California’s students to build a stronger future for young people and communities.

In this report learn more about:

  • CSU and UC Base Eligibility for Admission on Completion of Specific Courses
  • How Discrepancies Among High Schools, CSU, and UC Requirements Put Burden on Students
  • Course Requirements Inconsistent with High School Standards Create an Inequitable Barrier to CSU and UC
  • Disparities in Satisfying CSU and UC Course Requirements Reflect Societal and Educational Inequities
  • Policymakers Can Improve CSU and UC Access by Reforming Course Requirements

Don't miss an update.

Join our email list!