Disparities in Pre-Health Advising Across California’s Public Universities


Francine Rios-Fetchko, Mariam Carson, Manuel Tapia, Alicia Fernandez, and Janet Coffman

February 9, 2024

Background: The Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc., v. Harvard College is likely to result in the matriculation of fewer students from historically excluded racial/ethnic groups at more selective colleges and universities and matriculation of more students at less selective colleges and universities. Because of this, it is important to understand how resources for pre-health advising, a modifiable factor that can help increase the diversity of the health workforce, vary across institutions with differing levels of selectivity. Colleges are known to vary in resources, structure, and investment in pre-health advising but data are lacking and there is no estimate of any pre-health advising resource gap.

Purpose: To quantify availability of advising resources and identify perceived challenges in pre-health advising in California’s highly diverse public and select private undergraduate institutions.

Methods: Structured 60-minute Zoom interviews from June 2022 –October 2022 at 18/23 CSU (California State Universities), 9/9 University of California (UC) institutions and 6 select private institutions with varying levels of selectivity. Two investigators independently analyzed interviews using a Grounded Theory Approach. The full study team reviewed transcripts and themes.

Key results: Pre-health advisor capacity varied greatly across the three types of institutions. CSU: mean = 1 FTE advisor: 24,620 graduates (range: 1: 1,059–1: 150,520); UC mean = 1 FTE advisor: 4,526 graduates (range: 1: 1,912–1: 10,920); private institutions mean = 1 FTE advisor:1,794 graduates (range: 1: 722–1: 5,300). Participants reported common challenges: advising capacity, lack of advisor training, advisor turnover, and student difficulties in accessing clinical opportunities and required coursework. CSU and UC participants noted that these had greatest impact for first generation and racially/ethnically underrepresented students for whom lack of informal professional networks, lack of other mentors, and financial responsibilities complicate college navigation and professional school application.

Conclusions: Students at CSU campuses had 5 times less access to pre-health advising per graduate than UC students, and 13 times less than students at private institutions. Much greater investment is needed in California’s public institutions, particularly CSUs, to increase equity in access to advising for pre-health professional students. Research should examine pre-health advising resource capacity in other states, especially those that are now facing race-neutral admissions policies at undergraduate institutions and health professions schools.