For years, Bakersfield has found itself on lists ranked as one of the least educated cities in the country, but local educational leaders think some extra credit opportunities will improve the city's ranking in the future.
According to WalletHub findings released Monday, out of 150 cities in the country, Bakersfield comes in at 147, or the fourth least educated city in America. Visalia-Porterville was named the least educated city.
To identify the most and least educated cities in America, WalletHub compared the 150 most populated U.S. metropolitan statistical areas across two key dimensions: educational attainment and quality of education and attainment gap, according to its website. In those dimensions, WalletHub looked at percentage of people holding high school diplomas, associate's degrees, bachelor's degrees and graduate or professional degrees; quality of public school system; average quality of universities; enrolled students in the Top 951 universities per capita; and gender and racial education gap.
Bakersfield was in the bottom 10 for percentage of high school (146th), associate's (147th), bachelor's (149th) and graduate or professional degree holders (146th).
"Being born and raised in the county, it’s an issue of access and awareness of the opportunities available to students," said Abel Guzman, executive director of Bakersfield College's Rural Initiatives program. "There’s also the cultural mindset of families in the communities that BC serves. More than anything, it’s been students not being able to access the college education or training opportunities to change that fact that we keep ending up on this list."
Other California cities in the bottom 10 include Fresno (141st), Stockton-Lodi (144th), Salinas (145th) and Modesto (146th).
This is not the first time Bakersfield has landed among the least educated cities. It ranked as 147 in 2017 and 2018 as well.
Kylie Swanson, program manager of BC's Early College program, believes the difficulties first-generation college students face — not knowing how many credits they need to complete a degree or how to apply for financial aid — could also be a key factor that impacts Bakersfield's ranking.
"The parents' desire for their children to go to college is there and they’re excited about the opportunities, but it’s the basic understanding on how to get started, how to stick with it, things students in northern and southern areas might already know," she said.
But she is not concerned. In fact, Swanson believes there will be improvements in the next five years due to various initiatives and opportunities available throughout the county.
The county's 47 public school districts along with higher education institutions signed the Kern Education Pledge to transform the educational system, said Deputy Superintendent Lisa Gilbert, Ed.D., of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools.
"It represents all of us coming together and acknowledging no single institution can meet all of the state's educational goals on its own," she said. "What’s really exciting is we’re getting into the meat of the work."
Several work groups have been identifying if students are ready to start kindergarten, whether they are literate by the end of third grade, and how to best prepare high school students for college and other pathways, she said.
Through its Graduation Initiative 2025, Cal State Bakersfield hopes to increase four-year graduation rates for first-time freshmen to 40 percent, four-year graduation rate for transfer students to 85 percent and eliminate the achievement gap.
At BC, programs such as Rural Initiatives and Guided Pathways help students in rural communities launch their college careers and stay on the right track toward degree completion.
Through its Early College program, BC will implement dual and concurrent enrollment courses organized into pathways in Kern County high schools. By packaging courses into pathways that begin in the ninth grade, cohorts of students will have the opportunity to earn associate's degrees and/or certificates by the time they graduate with their high school diploma. Schools include the Wonderful Academy; Wasco, Arvin and Shafter high schools; and several southwest Bakersfield high schools.
Swanson added that partnering with CSUB to make the transition from BC to a four-year university will also help students feel successful.
Though progress will take time, Guzman said getting into the right mindset to see changes will help Bakersfield in the long run.
"This is a mind shift that we have to help families go through and so the college has engaged in Rural HEAL — Health, Equity, and Learning Collaborative — to promote economic mobility for all families," he said. "By being able to support these health initiatives and more social support network, it will help us move the needle with education."