Pros and Cons of Colleges in California

Although California colleges have made big news recently for increasing tuition rates, California’s public universities are regularly recognized for providing excellent educations. Many colleges in California made it onto U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges: Top Public Schools 2019” list. In fact, five of the top ten, including the top two spots, were California universities.

California : The Numbers

California has significantly more colleges and universities than other states, serving a student population of over 2 million in 2018– a number that has likely grown since then as college enrollments nationwide have increased. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2018/19 in California there were:

147 public institutions (compared to a U.S. average of 32)
146 private, not-for-profit institutions (U.S. average of 31)
143 private, for-profit institutions (U.S. average of 23)
The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education breaks it down further in its 2008 Report Card:

35 public four-year California colleges
112 public two-year California colleges
200 private four-year California colleges
72 private two-year California colleges
California Colleges’ Report Card Grades

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education’s 2008 Report Card for California universities and colleges reflected the budget challenges the state has experienced. California’s worst grades, C- for “affordability” and C for “participation,” largely reflected the recent tuition increases California has experienced (as much as 32 percent at some colleges).

Rising tuition has increased the percentage of income that students and their families allocate for education. In 2017/18 those attending two-year colleges paid 25 percent of family income on college, compared to 24 percent nationally; in 2009/2010, that figure was 20 percent in California and 19 percent nationally.

For four-year college students, in 2017/18, 28 percent of family income was used for education (equal to the national average); in 2009/2010, it was 21 percent in California and 20 percent nationally.

Although its “participation” grade could be better, the report’s findings placed California slightly above the national average for college enrollment of young adults in the state.
The Report Card cited the following average tuition rates for 2017/18:

  • Public four-year: $5,188
  • Public two-year: $594
  • Private: $29,785

Average financial aid for students attending California universities and colleges was $2,384 for two-year college students and $6,692 for four-year college students. According to the Department of Education, in 2018 and 2019, over 2 million students attending colleges in California were awarded federal financial aid, which included grants and loans. In 2016, over 1.5 million students (out of 2,172,354 enrolled) were awarded federal financial aid.

California Living

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic (BLS), the median 2019 income for California’s nearly 37 million people was $49,550. According to Econ Post, California has the largest GDP in the U.S. and the eighth biggest in the world. Notable California industries include computer software, manufacturing, fishing, wineries, and medical marijuana.