There are a whole lot more California students who are prepared for college than in previous years, but they aren’t going, at least not in California.

According to an article by Carla Rivera in the Los Angeles Times:

The number of high school graduates in California reached an all-time high of 405,000 in 2010; the number of seniors who completed college admission requirements increased dramatically, as did the number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement exams.

Good news. And yet:

The number of eligible California high school graduates entering the state’s public four-year universities has plunged in the last five years, as budget-strapped institutions increasingly adopt practices to reduce enrollment, a new study has found.

At University of California and California State University campuses, enrollment rates dropped by one-fifth, to fewer than 18% of all state high school graduates in 2010, from about 22% in 2007.

The reason for this is that, thanks to declining state appropriations for higher education, the University of California and California State University systems are dramatically more expensive than they used to be. Cal State hiked tuition 12 percent last year. The University of California increased in-state tuition 32 percent in 2009 alone.

Public policy arguments about the need to improve education, particularly increasing the high school graduation rate and classes required to get a diploma, are beneficial because such education gains improve economic performance. But if such changes aren’t followed up with higher education investments, however, they don’t really work. Schools have just educated students to the point where they move out of state to go to college.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer