Marginalizing the Majority: Barriers to California Baccalaureate Attainment

Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
California is home to the nation’s largest higher education systems which once served as the model for access, affordability, and excellence. However, decades of declining state investment and existing policies are marginalizing the majority of California students and perpetuating social stratification across the state. Without policy transformation, California will fail to meet demands for a more highly educated workforce. Higher education CEOs hold a unique vantage point in which they bridge and buffer micro, meso, and macro forces, and are positioned to provide nuanced insight into higher education’s complex ecosystem. This qualitative grounded theory study evaluated how California public higher education CEOs (UC n = 11, CSU n = 8, CCC n = 28) understand and navigate the challenges of increasing undergraduate access and attainment. Saturation of data reveals three broad themes - systemic barriers, institutional practices, and societal determinants - each with several subthemes. From business operations to curricular decisions, findings reveal a tension and inverse relationship amongst two continuums: uniformity and autonomy. Recent legislative reforms and higher education budget performance expectations propagate increasing intra and intersegmental uniformity, addressing participant concerns over disparate and circuitous pathways. However, participants caution against one-size-fits-all legislative approaches as each campus serves unique regional industry and student needs. Therefore, regional needs should moderate identification of the “sweet spot,” the point at which autonomy and uniformity continuums converge. California public higher education CEOs must balance the autonomy and uniformity continuums as they attempt to move their respective campus mission and strategic goals forward.
A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Higher Education, Education Policy, Educational Leadership