The Education Trust-West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-k through college.

College & Career

To fill workplace needs over the next two decades, California will need 1 million more college graduates than our education system is on track to produce. Sadly, our high school to college pipeline is broken, with too few students completing high school, enrolling in postsecondary institutions, and completing degrees. The leaks in this pipeline disproportionately hurt low-income students and students of color.

California’s high schools must dramatically increase not only the number of students who are earning diplomas, but also the number of students who graduate with meaningful preparation. This means ensuring that students have the skills, knowledge, and coursework necessary for college and career. And it means eliminating the systematic tracking that exacerbates differences among student subgroups: Low-income students and students of color receive less demanding coursework, limiting the scope of both their education and their future college and career options.

All California students should be well prepared for both college and the workforce.

Rigorous Standards, Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessments

When California adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010, it signaled a tectonic shift in the education landscape. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), adopted in 2013, are a far cry from the mile-wide, inch-deep standards of yesterday. These new standards set college and career readiness as the goal for all students, and they hold the promise of bringing rigor and relevance into the classroom. To realize this promise, our state must support educators, students, and parents in every district and community as they begin implementation. Without a focus on equity during this transition period, implementation of the standards may widen existing gaps in academic access and opportunity rather than close them.

To equitably implement the new standards, we must provide high-quality professional learning opportunities for all staff, provide rigorous instructional materials to classrooms, secure technology for new assessments and 21st century instruction, educate families and other stakeholders about the benefits of the new standards, and evaluate and monitor the implementation process. Taken together, these components will ensure all students in our state get access to the rigorous instruction and assessments that will prepare them for both college and career success.

In order to ensure equitable access to rigorous standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessments, we recommend that state leaders:

  1. Ensure equitable and effective implementation of the new standards, including the Common Core English-language arts (ELA) and math standards, NGSS, and English-language development (ELD) standards.
  2. Expand access to high-quality instructional materials.
  3. Invest in instructional models that promote deeper, interdisciplinary learning with the explicit goal of college and career success.
  4. Support a transparent, swift, and equitable transition to new assessments.


California must strengthen its graduation requirements and align them with college-ready expectations. All students ought to graduate with the courses needed to enter California’s public universities. In 20 states across the country and the District of Columbia, students are already required to complete a college-preparatory curriculum to earn a diploma, in recognition that a rigorous course of study is necessary for both college and career. Until California’s default graduation requirements are strong enough to make a student eligible for the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU) systems, we must continue to expand access to the “A-G” course sequence required by our state’s public university systems.


Given the global economic challenges our state and nation are facing, it is abundantly clear that we must approach college and career readiness from a new direction. Fortunately, is a fresh groundswell of commitment to high school reform in California and across the country, with educators and policymakers committed to expanding college and career readiness. “Linked Learning” is one such effort. When implemented in fidelity with its vision, it promises to increase graduation rates and prepare students for both college and career options by offering an engaging, relevant, and rigorous course of study. The Linked Learning reform strategy is in the early stages of development and implementation in California districts. Therefore, the effectiveness, scalability, and potential of this approach to result in greater equity, improved student academic achievement, and college and career access and success has yet to be fully determined.


California must continue to fund, develop, and implement the state’s student data system (CALPADS) so that all stakeholders have the data they need to evaluate and support student learning and system improvement. A system that tracks individual student progress from early childhood through the K–12 system, into postsecondary education, and then into the workforce, will allow the state to determine which programs yield the most results. Further, such a system will help educators work with parents to support each student’s progress.


The Education Trust—West is exploring the digital learning landscape to understand the promise and pitfalls of technological innovation in education. Our goal is to identify and advocate for the policies, solutions and strategies that will allow low-income students and students of color to fully realize the potential of the digital world and this new and more personalized approach to learning. Our ultimate goal is to improve student outcomes and to erase the achievement gap. We are also concerned that low-income students and students of color lack equitable access to the benefits of technological innovation in education, and seek to ensure educators and policymakers focus on digital equity, access and success to address this inequity.

There are several policy and implementation issues we are exploring:

  • Access to infrastructure – such as bandwidth, hardware and quality tools and content;
  • Development of human capital - professional development and support for the educators and administrators on the effective use of digital tools;
  • Leadership and redesign: School and district leaders will need to restructure our 19th century educational model to take advantage of new opportunities to accelerate learning provided by digital tools;
  • State policy and funding – removal of barriers such as seat time and other 19th century requirements and the effective use of funding to close digital divides.

Publications on College & Career

Ed Trust–West Releases Statement in Response to Governor Brown’s 2014-2015 State Budget

OAKLAND, CA (June 20, 2014) – Valerie Cuevas, Interim Executive Director of The Education Trust—West, issued the following statement following Governor Brown’s signing of the 2014-2015 state budget today:  

“We commend the Governor and the Legislature for accelerating the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) by providing an additional $4.7 billion in the 2014-15 budget. This additional funding will strengthen the work of school districts to serve our neediest students and close achievement gaps. Unfortunately, we remain concerned about two issues. The Governor and the Legislature chose not to designate additional funding for implementation of the Common Core State Standards. All students will be subject to more rigorous state standards and assessments, but not all students will have access to fully prepared teachers, and adequate technology and instructional materials. As a result, opportunity and achievement gaps could be exacerbated rather than narrowed. Furthermore, the plan for increasing employer contributions to the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) will double the cost of retirement benefits for school districts without a plan for funding the increased contributions. Without a plan for additional funding, the increased contributions to CalSTRS will be paid at the expense of funding for the LCFF, including supplemental and concentration funding for needy students.”

New Analysis Finds FAFSA & Cal Grant Applications Rising; Too Many Students Across California Still Not Applying for Financial Aid

OAKLAND, CA (February 25, 2014) – An analysis of newly available FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and Cal Grant application data from the California Student Aid Commission released today by The Education Trust—West finds that while the number of California high school seniors who complete FAFSA and Cal Grant applications is up from last year, there are still too many students across the state who are not applying for financial aid.

The new data reveal that the number of high school seniors who completed FAFSA and Cal Grant applications rose from 2012 to 2013, from 54 percent to 61 percent for FAFSA and from 50 percent to 58 percent respectively. Still, the fact remains that nearly 170,000 12th graders (42%) from the class of 2013 did not complete a Cal Grant application. The new findings can be found in the latest “Equity Alert” brief from The Education Trust—West, titled, Doorways to College Aid, the follow up to last year’s full report, The Cost of Opportunity: Access to College Financial Aid in California. The brief also includes a list of the Top 100 high schools in California for FAFSA completion.

New Ed Trust–West Study Finds Promising Practices for Student Success in Linked Learning Schools; Reveals Implications for District-Level Implementation throughout California

OAKLAND, CA (March 21, 2013) – As the Linked Learning high school reform initiative expands across California, the results of a two-year study by the Education Trust–West identifies promising practices in Linked Learning schools and districts. However, the study also notes variation in districtwide implementation of these best practices. The results of the study can be found in the new report released today titled, Expanding Access, Creating Options: How Linked Learning Pathways Can Mitigate Barriers to College and Career Access in Schools and Districts.

“Too many students are not achieving college and career success in California,” said Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education Trust–West, a statewide education advocacy organization that works to close gaps in opportunity and achievement for students of color and low-income students. “Based on our research, we see that Linked Learning has the potential to reduce these inequities and offer students a real connection between academic and career success.” 

Ed Trust–West Analysis Finds Only Half of California Students Applying for Financial Aid; Potentially Hundreds of Millions of Dollars in Financial Aid Untapped

OAKLAND, CA (February 28, 2013) – An analysis of newly available FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and Cal Grant application data by The Education Trust–West finds that low-income California students may be missing out on potentially hundreds of millions of student aid dollars. 

The Education Trust–West calculated FAFSA completion rates and Cal Grant completion and award rates both statewide and for individual California high schools. The findings are presented in the newly released report, The Cost of Opportunity: Access to College Financial Aid in California and related website, The data reveal that only 54 percent of high school seniors in California’s public high schools completed the FAFSA in the 2012-13 financial aid year. Only 50 percent of seniors completed the Cal Grant application.  

Repairing the Pipeline: A Look at the Gaps in California's High School to College Transition

California will need an additional one million college graduates by 2025. To meet this challenge, California’s college and career pipeline must serve as a true pathway to post-secondary success for all California’s students. New data from the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) highlight major gaps in college opportunity for the low-income students and students of color who are the majority of California’s student population. Fortunately, these data also reveal high schools throughout California that are making progress in closing these opportunity gaps. To read more, click here.  

Publication date: 
June 19 2012

New CALPADS Data Reveal Accurate California Graduation and Dropout Rates for All Students; Shows Unacceptable Results for Students of Color and English Learners

OAKLAND, CA (August 11, 2011) -- Today’s release by the California Department of Education (CDE) of the state’s graduation and dropout rates has good news and bad news. The bad news is clear: The data show that California students, particularly low-income students, students of color, and other high-need populations, graduate from high school at alarmingly low rates. The good news is that for the first time, the graduation and dropout rates are accurate, transparent, and are no longer estimates, thanks to the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, or CALPADS.

New Book Provides School Leaders with Tools for Preparing All Students for College and Career

OAKLAND, CA (August 3, 2011) – In her new book, Diploma Matters: A Field Guide for College and Career Readiness (Jossey-Bass; $29.95; ISBN13: 978-1-118-00914-7; August 2011), Dr. Linda Murray provides practitioners and advocates throughout the nation with a practical set of tools to transform schools so that all students have the opportunity to achieve their college and career aspirations.

Diploma Matters: A Field Guide for College and Career Readiness

Diploma Matters:  A Field Guide for College and Career Readiness (Jossey-Bass) is written for practitioners who believe fully that the K-12 experience should prepare all students equally well for the full array of opportunities that await them after high school.  Whatever they choose, high school graduates should be equipped with the knowledge and skills that will make them successful in both college and careers. 

This field guide is intended to help state leaders, district superintendents, principals, and other site and district leaders gain a deep understanding of what it takes to ensure that students from all backgrounds have access to a rigorous course of study that leads to college and career readiness. It can also be a useful resource in the higher education arena as part of teacher preparation and administrator leadership programs. Readers will find a "toolkit" developed by The Education Trust-West.  The tools in the kit help school leaders and teachers examine the current high school experience (Educational Opportunity Audit), and then develop a detailed action plan (Blueprint) to transform curriculum so that their students are ready for college and work. 

Publication date: 
August 2 2011

Unlocking Doors and Expanding Opportunities

To meet California’s demand for a more educated workforce, high schools must dramatically increase the number of students who earn diplomas and graduate with meaningful preparation. Yet disturbingly, few students graduate with the college-ready coursework needed to access our state’s public university system. This is especially true for low-income students and students of color, who are also disproportionately tracked into less rigorous “career education” courses.

Publication date: 
July 25 2011