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||Improving the Accuracy of Predictions
- Although we continue to be impressed by the general approach taken by the two
state agencies primarily responsible for projecting higher education enrollments,
there are a number of important improvements that can be made.
1. The Department of Finance projections of high school graduates is a critical part
of the data used to project higher education undergraduate enrollments. Much of that
work is dependent on the quality of the California Basic Education Data System (CBEDS).
The system, which relies on teachers to report student attendance and to identify
students by race and ethnicity, is of uneven quality. While there have been some
improvements in CBEDS data, it is time for the Department of Education to carefully
review its accuracy and take steps to improve it further.
The grade progression ratios the department uses are essential for arriving at the
number of graduates projected for the future. Two issues arise out of an examination
of the data. First, there is a very large and growing number of students who don't
enroll in kindergarten five years after birth or in first grade six years after birth.
These numbers are important since they drive much of the rest of the model. There
is a lot of speculation about what happens to these students, but very little beyond
speculation. This is an important data gap that needs to be examined in some detail.
Secondly, in the ninth grade a reverse data problem occurs. Between grades eight
and nine, a large number of students suddenly appear in the system, far exceeding
the cohort from the prior year. Again, one can speculate about the numbers, but it
is important for the accuracy of the projections to examine the causes for this apparent
2. It is now virtually impossible to parse out whether recent declines in K-12 enrollments
by grade are attributable to out-of-state migration or actual changes in attendance
patterns. The extent to which the decline can be attributed to any one cause is still
a mystery. CBEDS is the primary tool used by the Department of Finance to project
persistence rates annually in elementary and high schools.
In higher education, the situation is no better. Particularly frustrating is the
difficulty in following students as they navigate the higher education system. Counting
students who are concurrently enrolled in more than one system, or in more than one
college within a system, leads to inaccurate estimates of the numbers actually served
in higher education. It is incumbent that we begin laying the groundwork for establishing
a student identification system to allow the state to follow students as they progress
through the school systems and segments. The proposal to assign all children individual
student identifiers (e.g., social security numbers) needs to be revived.
3. The Department of Finance at one time forecasted private elementary and high school
enrollments. They no longer do so. The recent growth in attendance at private schools
and in home schooling requires a thorough examination of these trends. The numbers
are particularly important to the University of California, since a growing portion
of its first-time freshmen are drawn from private schools. The Department of Finance,
working closely with the Department of Education, should resume its projection series
for private K-12 enrollment.
4. Another important data gap occurs in higher education: information reported voluntarily
to CPEC by private higher education institutions is woefully inadequate. Private
higher education offers an important and growing set of alternatives for meeting
the access needs of California's citizens. The state can benefit from additional
information about the rapidly growing, easily accessible higher education segments
such as the University of Phoenix. CPEC should be funded to improve the quality and
quantity of private higher education information, particularly from those institutions
that are growing most rapidly. Assessing the capacity of the private colleges and
universities to accommodate growth is an important part of the access solution. Currently
these data simply are not made available in a systematic way.
5. Community colleges must do a better job of transmitting information to the other
segments of higher education. Since CSU is particularly reliant on community college
transfers, CSU's ability to project its enrollment needs is severely hampered by
the community colleges' failure to provide such information. All segments, however,
need to improve intersegmental data collection and distribution. Virtually every
segmental policy impacting admission, fees, and course offerings has an impact on
the other segments. If California is to effectively absorb over half-a-million new
students in the relatively short term, the degree of collaboration and coordination
among segments must be enhanced.
6. The Legislative Analyst makes a strong case for improving the way we assess the
current capacity of existing institutions. If the segments were able to accommodate
an undergraduate student population at its peak, isn't that the year that should
be used for determining capital outlay needs? The fact is we don't know; the data
do not tell us much about the adequacy or inadequacy of the level of accommodation.
In order to assess the true costs of enrollment growth, more accurate information
7. While it is too early to make lasting judgements about the impact of Proposition
209 on access to California higher education, it is not too early for the segments
to treat this issue in an intersegmental way. No one knows, for example, the impact
that will result from the proposal to permit the top 4% of students from each high
school to attend the University of California. Equally importantly, we do not know
the impact such a policy would have on admissions to the other two segments. Access
for historically underrepresented populations must be viewed as a challenge for the
entire education system÷extending far beyond the segmental boundaries and
requiring, as never before, a rethinking of educational policy from preschool to
graduate school. Only a pervasive planning effort involving K-12 and all segments
of higher education as full partners will fulfill California's commitment to providing
every student with equal opportunities for quality education.
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© 1998 The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education