New report looks at education, health, the economy and other factors that contribute to quality of life in OC

Graphics from report

Kindergarten readiness, graduation rates and degrees in the STEM fields are highlighted in the latest Orange County Community Indicators report.

Presented by the Orange County Business Council and other local partners during a virtual rollout on Thursday, the 2021-22 indicators report tracks a wide range of issues deemed critical to the county’s long-term health and prosperity, including education, housing, income, health, civic engagement and the economy.

Statistics, graphs and brief summaries in each section are designed to show how well the county is performing in key areas, as well as areas that need improvement. This year’s report also examines the local impacts of the pandemic, including shifts in consumer behavior, the mainstreaming of remote work and how those factors could influence the housing market.

Kindergarten readiness

The education section of the Community Indicators report begins with a look at kindergarten readiness, which is regarded as a strong predictor of future academic performance. Significant disparities are noted among racial groups, according to the report, which also points out “noticeable differences” between north and south Orange County.

An early development index is used to measure how well young learners are prepared for kindergarten based on five domains: physical health and well-being, communication skills and general knowledge, social competence, emotional maturity, and language and cognitive development.

Overall, about 52.9 percent of Orange County children were considered ready to start kindergarten in 2019 based on the index. That includes 63.9 percent of Asian children, compared to 44.5 percent of Latino children.

“When crafting policies or strategies aimed at supporting early learning and child development, school districts and kindergarten teachers must consider more equitable and inclusive solutions to support students of every background,” the report says.

Asian students struggled less in the early development domains compared to non-Asian students, and White students were less likely to be vulnerable in these areas compared to non-White students. The report notes that reducing the vulnerability of Latino, Black and Native American children would do more than improve the quality of life for their families, it would raise the quality of life for all families in the region.

Graduation rates

In the 2019-20 academic year, 90.4 percent of Orange County students who entered ninth grade in 2016 graduated on time four years later, an improvement of 0.7 percentage points compared to the previous year. Orange County outperformed the state’s graduation rate of 84.3 percent by more than 6 percentage points.

Asian students posted the highest graduation rates at 94.7 percent, followed by White students at 92.8 percent. Students who marked “other” graduated at a rate of 90.7 percent, and Latino students posted a rate of 87.5 percent. 

In a district-by-district breakdown, Laguna Beach Unified produced the highest graduation rate in the county at 98.4 percent. Los Alamitos Unified was second, graduating 97.2 percent of its students after four years.

At the county-level, the overall dropout rate declined from 4.6 percent in 2018-19 to 4.4 percent in 2019-20. Academic achievement gaps between socioeconomic groups also continued to shrink, according to data collected from the state.

STEM-related fields

Orange County colleges and universities conferred a total of 14,448 STEM-related bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in 2020, a decline of less than 0.1 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, the total number of total degrees — that includes STEM and non-STEM — declined by 4.1 percent, suggesting that STEM-related fields were less impacted by the pandemic.

Since 2010, STEM-related degrees in the county have increased by 68 percent — or by an annual average of 5.4 percent per year. The report says Orange County’s high levels of education will be a major asset in the economic recovery from COVID-19.

Indicators report rollout

Developed in partnership with First 5 Orange County, Orange County United Way, CalOptima, and the Orange County Community Foundation, the Orange County Community Indicators document was officially rolled out Thursday, Sept. 16 during a webinar moderated by OCBC’s chief economic advisor, Dr. Wallace Walrod, who was also an author of the report.   

Other panelists included Dr. Christine Olmstead, OCDE’s associate superintendent of Educational Services; Colleen Dillaway, director of public affairs for Cox Communications; Jeff Montejano, CEO of the Building Industry Association of Southern California; Kim Goll, president and CEO of First 5 Orange County; Shelley Hoss, president and CEO of the Orange County Community Foundation; Sue Parks, president and CEO or Orange County United Way; and Richard Sanchez, CEO of CalOptima.

OCBC President and CEO Lucy Dunn delivered the opening and closing remarks and facilitated an audience Q&A.