Which San Diego school districts send the most kids to college, and how well do they prepare them? Here's what the data show (2023)

About two-thirds of 2022 San Diego County public high school graduates went on to any form of college the following fall — and that rate varies widely by school district, race and income, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

That’s an improvement from 2020 and 2021, when only 64 percent of high school graduates in each of those years enrolled in college the next fall, as students faced economic and emotional turmoil brought on by COVID-19.

This story is for subscribers

We offer subscribers exclusive access to our best journalism.
Thank you for your support.


All told, 9,900 of last year’s San Diego County graduates did not go to college the following fall.

And another 5,900 students, or 15 percent of the Class of 2022, did not graduate from high school, according to the state education department.

The clearinghouse data provides a rare, long-range view of how successful public schools are in getting students to college.

It’s the most comprehensive data available that tracks where students go when they leave San Diego County’s K-12 system, and at a school district level. The state publishes such college-going data, but it has not yet done so for 2022.

The San Diego County Office of Education, which provides support to school districts and charters across the county, started to obtain its own data from the clearinghouse in 2018. But the data is little-known and not widely discussed.

The data is crucial because both K-12 and higher education institutions can use it to investigate why certain student groups are not enrolling in college or completing degrees as much as others, said Shannon Coulter, the director at the San Diego County Office of Education who manages the data.

An analysis of the clearinghouse data by The San Diego Union-Tribune shows enrollment rates of high school graduates as low as 37 percent in Oceanside Unified and as high as 82 percent in Poway Unified. In San Diego Unified, the state’s second-largest district, 68 percent of graduates enrolled in college the year they graduated.

On par with national trends, high-income students are more likely to go to college than low-income students. About 75 percent of San Diego County higher-income public high school graduates enrolled in college last year, compared to only 58 percent of low-income students.

College enrollment rates are highest for Asian students in the county and lowest for Latino, Black, American Indian and Pacific Islander students. About 79 percent of Asian students and 73 percent of White students enrolled in college, compared to 60 percent of Latino students and 62 percent of Black students.

About half of county college-going graduates enrolled at a four-year college and half enrolled at a two-year college. But those rates also varied when looking at individual school districts.

Generally, districts with higher four-year college enrollment rates had few low-income students, while districts with higher two-year college enrollment rates had more low-income students.

Grossmont Union High had a college enrollment rate of roughly the county average, but it has sent far more students to two-year colleges than to four-year ones, with about 30 percent of its college-going graduates going to four-year institutions. Sweetwater, which has an above-average college enrollment rate, is also sending most of its college-going graduates to two-year colleges.

Meanwhile, in the affluent San Dieguito and Carlsbad districts, more than four out of five college-going graduates are going to a four-year college.

The county’s clearinghouse data is not perfect. It is missing schools and districts that do not participate and submit student data or whose data was not validated by the clearinghouse. It does not include about 30 alternative high schools — primarily charters — that serve primarily credit-deficient students and do not submit data to the clearinghouse.

However, the data is still fairly comprehensive, accounting for about 95 percent of the county’s graduates, Coulter said.

How well are schools preparing students for college?

High schools vary in how successfully they prepare students for college, such as getting students to pass college preparatory courses and help completing applications.

“All the traditional things that really set kids on a path to be college-ready… some schools have better supports in place for those kinds of things than others,” Coulter said.

Completing the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid, for instance, is one of the strongest predictors of college enrollment. But in 2022, only 56 percent of high school seniors in the county submitted a FAFSA or California Dream Act application by the state’s deadline, according to the California Student Aid Commission.

This year, only 62 percent submitted an application, even though public schools are now required by state law to ensure all high school seniors complete one.

Another important precursor to college enrollment is academic preparation. In California that means completing what are known as the A-G course requirements, which are needed for admission to the California State University and University of California.

Countywide, about half of all high school seniors met A-G requirements in 2022, according to the state education department — slightly better than the state’s overall 45 percent.

On the high end, 80 percent of San Dieguito Union High students met A-G requirements, while only one third of Fallbrook Union High and Mountain Empire Unified students did. San Diego Unified was above the county average, with 61 percent of students meeting A-G requirements.

Sweetwater Union High, which had an above-average college enrollment rate of 71 percent, offers financial aid application help to students and provides classes about college for first-generation college students’ families, said Ana Alvarez, the district’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. The district has focused on raising A-G completion rates by providing in-class math tutoring and dedicating a staff member dedicated to credit recovery and acceleration, she said.

“One of the biggest things we’re doing is trying to increase the rigor and the supports that we have in our academic courses,” Alvarez said.

Which San Diego school districts send the most kids to college, and how well do they prepare them? Here's what the data show (1)

In lieu of a traditional graduation ceremony during the pandemic in 2020, Sweetwater Union High School District organized for all of its 13 high schools to take part in a celebration parade of cars circling Southwestern College. The countywide rate at which high school graduates enroll in college the following fall has ticked up since then. Sweetwater Union High’s is above the county average.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Oceanside Unified, a district of 15,800 mostly low-income students, has focused on its dual-enrollment program through Mira Costa College. The district offers career pathways through those courses in sectors such as child development and hospitality management, and more than 300 students are enrolled in more than a dozen courses, said Teresa Collis, Oceanside’s career technical education coordinator. The district is also one of more than a dozen that has an automatic admission partnership with CSU San Marcos for students who meet certain requirements.

When asked about the district’s college enrollment rate, the lowest among all county districts, Oceanside’s secondary education executive director Richard Lawrence attributed it to military families who relocate to other duty stations upon graduating and to graduates taking a gap year to address mental health, family and financial needs. He said many students enter the military or workforce after graduation — Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton is located within the district’s boundaries.

“We continue to strive to ensure that all our students are college and career ready at the end of their time with us,” Lawrence said in an email.

Another big obstacle to college attendance comes during the summer, when many students fall victim to a phenomenon known as “summer melt.” Some researchers have estimated that 10 percent or more of students who have already enrolled in college end up not actually going, for any number of reasons — personal or family issues, not enough money, or a lack of support in navigating the new student process.

“A lot of kids fall off the track right there. They don’t have access to a counselor, they’re not really a college student,” Coulter said. “We need a better hand-off between the K-12 and the higher education system.”

In the clearinghouse data, numbers of enrolled students do not differentiate between who signed up for college but never attended and who ended up actually going, Coulter said.

How one charter network gets students to college

Coulter pointed to High Tech High, a network of 16 charter schools with roughly 6,300 K-12 students in San Diego County, as an example of what districts could be doing to boost college-going rates.

Out of the charter network’s 613 high school seniors last year, 96 percent graduated, and 95 percent met A-G requirements, according to the state education department. About 82 percent enrolled in college, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, a rate higher than any county school district except Poway Unified.

High Tech High serves fewer poor students than the county average — only 38 percent are low-income — but more than half of students are first-generation college-goers, according to Chris White, its director of college counseling.

Which San Diego school districts send the most kids to college, and how well do they prepare them? Here's what the data show (2)

High Tech High in Liberty Station.

(Howard Lipin/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Like many districts, High Tech High schools hold workshops on completing financial aid and college applications. The key point is that High Tech High embeds those activities into the school day and makes many of them mandatory, rather than offering them as optional events after school, White said.

“In-school supports will really ensure that our students are really completing the applications, as opposed to after-school,” he said.

Since 2018 every high school in the network has had a “college and career access team,” a campus committee that tracks how far along every student is in completing milestones in getting to college, such as completing the FAFSA, submitting applications to four-year colleges and actually matriculating to college after graduation, White said.

The teams make sure every high school senior completes each milestone, even tracking down an individual student as an application deadline nears to ensure that they make it. The committees — which usually consist of a classroom teacher, a counselor, a dual-enrollment coordinator and a principal — meet biweekly.

Twice a year, each high school holds an “App Fest” during the school day for seniors, with rooms dedicated to each task in the college application process — filling out the University of California application, California State University application and Common Application and writing a personal essay, for example, White said.

The schools start holding financial aid workshops in junior year, then hold FAFSA workshops in senior year, he said. Staff walk students through case studies of aid packages that past graduates have received to teach them how to decipher different types of aid. High Tech High uses a cost calculator from nonprofit uAspire that compares a student’s aid offers from multiple colleges and calculates what their out-of-pocket and loan costs would be for each.

To keep A-G completion rates high, High Tech High students are automatically enrolled in A-G courses, White said.

And to prevent summer melt, schools send weekly mass texts reminding students to complete college transition tasks, based on events listed on the UC and CSU’s calendars. Designated transition coordinators offer students help in making sure they sign up for orientation, talk with a college academic adviser about class selection and more, White said.

High Tech High has been working with dozens of high schools in southern California on expanding college access through its CARPE Collaborative, a project within its graduate school of education.

The collaborative provides guides with steps for high schools on how to better support students in three areas: completing financial aid, submitting college applications and transitioning to college over the summer.


Which San Diego school districts send the most kids to college, and how well do they prepare them? Here's what the data show? ›

Led by its two dynamic and forward-thinking public universities, San Diego, which once billed itself as “America's Finest City,” is turning itself into a paradise for students. San Diego's public schools — San Diego State and UC San Diego — are bucking recent state and national declines by boosting enrollment.

What is the number 1 school district in San Diego? ›

The 10 Best Schools Districts in San Diego
DistrictStudent-Teacher Ratio
1Coronado Unified School District19.2
2San Dieguito Union High School District25.2
3San Marcos Unified School District24.8
4Poway Unified School District23.4
7 more rows
Mar 1, 2023

Is San Diego good for college students? ›

Led by its two dynamic and forward-thinking public universities, San Diego, which once billed itself as “America's Finest City,” is turning itself into a paradise for students. San Diego's public schools — San Diego State and UC San Diego — are bucking recent state and national declines by boosting enrollment.

What are good schools in San Diego? ›

  • Preuss School UCSD. La Jolla, CA. Preuss School UCSD District. ...
  • Canyon Crest Academy. San Diego, CA. ...
  • Del Norte High School. San Diego, CA. ...
  • Westview High School. San Diego, CA. ...
  • Sage Creek High School. Carlsbad, CA. ...
  • Mt. Everest Academy. ...
  • Del Lago Academy - Campus of Applied Science. Escondido, CA. ...
  • Scripps Ranch High School. San Diego, CA.

What is the ranking of schools in San Diego County? ›

The top ranked public schools in San Diego County, CA are R. Roger Rowe Elementary School, Scripps Ranch High School and Spencer Valley Elementary School. Overall testing rank is based on a school's combined math and reading proficiency test score ranking.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Clemencia Bogisich Ret

Last Updated: 21/11/2023

Views: 6182

Rating: 5 / 5 (60 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Clemencia Bogisich Ret

Birthday: 2001-07-17

Address: Suite 794 53887 Geri Spring, West Cristentown, KY 54855

Phone: +5934435460663

Job: Central Hospitality Director

Hobby: Yoga, Electronics, Rafting, Lockpicking, Inline skating, Puzzles, scrapbook

Introduction: My name is Clemencia Bogisich Ret, I am a super, outstanding, graceful, friendly, vast, comfortable, agreeable person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.