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Half of new UC students are first-generation college students

Nearly half the California freshmen at UC this fall will be among the first in their families to earn a college degree, according to UC’s annual Accountability Report.

While many of America’s top colleges and universities struggle to serve large numbers of students on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, UC continues to stand apart from both public and private research universities in educating large numbers of socioeconomically disadvantaged students, according to the report.

The Accountability Report, which was presented to the UC Board of Regents on July 22, provides a comprehensive set of metrics and indicators aimed at helping UC leaders and the public assess how well the university is doing in meeting its mission of teaching, research and public service.

Now in its eighth year, the report is a key part of UC’s commitment to public transparency and accountability. It details progress toward goals, trends over time and comparisons to other institutions.

The result provides a glimpse of how UC’s size combines with its world-class academic excellence to provide far-reaching benefits to all Californians, not only those who pursue and complete UC degrees, said UC Provost Aimée Dorr.

“As the nation’s premier public research university, UC plays a critical role in offering a high-quality education to large numbers of California students, regardless of income or background,” Dorr said. “This report demonstrates that commitment, and also shows that UC is an economic powerhouse for the state, both in terms of workforce development and innovation.”

Roughly 42 percent of UC students receive Pell Grants, federal financial aid for students from families with annual incomes of less than $55,000. That compares to an average of 22 percent at other very selective public research universities and 16 percent at selective private universities.

In fact, UC’s nine undergraduate campuses each enroll a higher portion of low-income students than any of its non-UC competitors. Five campuses — Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego — each enroll more low-income students than the entire Ivy League combined.

Nationally, low-income and first-generation college-going students are at statistically greater risk of dropping out, a gap that persists even at many top-tier universities.

That is not the case at UC campuses.

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds take slightly longer, on average, to complete their studies. That is due in part to the fact that they are less likely to enroll in summer school, which is not covered by all financial aid. Many also hold jobs and face family responsibilities outside their studies.

Within six years, however — the national standard for successful completion — UC’s low-income students achieve graduation rates on par with their more affluent peers.

Robust support programs on every UC campus help students from backgrounds where college-going is not the norm build connections and community. The programs include advisers who can help students manage their school work and guide them in coping with any family and financial difficulties that arise.

Strong outcomes for students across the board

UC campuses continue to look for ways to improve timely graduation for all undergraduates.

Such efforts appear to be paying off: The amount of time it takes students to complete their degrees is shorter now than it has been any time in the last 15 years. Nearly 90 percent of UC undergraduates succeed in earning a college diploma, and most do so within four years.

After graduating, UC students do well in the job market.

Data from the state’s labor rolls show that 70 percent of UC bachelor’s recipients join the state’s workforce immediately after completing their degree, in fields spanning education, engineering, health care and manufacturing.

Across disciplines, undergraduate degree recipients double their earnings between two and 10 years after graduation. The majority of Pell Grant recipients who receive a UC bachelor degree will earn more than their combined family income within five years.

The report also shows that UC’s costs are manageable. Roughly 45 percent of undergraduates have no debt at graduation, a percentage that is higher today than it was 15 years ago. For students who do borrow, the average debt at graduation is $20,210, well below the national average of $29,400.

“This data offers reassuring evidence that UC continues to serve as an engine of opportunity for thousands of bright and curious young people, and a critical source of the workforce talent that will keep California strong,” Dorr said.

Impacts far beyond education

The Accountability Report also looks at other key areas in which UC’s role as the nation’s leading public research university benefits the state by creating a highly educated workforce and serving as an engine of research and innovation.

The report includes maps that show the geographic reach of UC partnerships in the community. The maps highlight the myriad programs in food, agriculture, health, environmental stewardship and K-12 education that touch people in every corner of the state.

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