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New report sounds the alarm in California: Only 1 in 8 Latinos has a four-year college degree — and Newsom and state legislators need to act now to boost college graduates by 2030

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | November 25, 2018

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(Photo courtesy of the Campaign for College Opportunity)

The authors of a new report are calling on California’s newly elected governor, Gavin Newsom, and state legislators to do more to ensure Latinos graduate from college.

Only 12 percent of Latinos attain a four-year college degree, and they continue to be the group with the lowest rate of college completion in the state and lag behind in completing college-ready courses in high school, according to the “State of Higher Education for Latinx in California” report, released this month by the Campaign for College Opportunity.

“We have to change the mindset of our K-12 schools from a focus on just graduating our Latinx students to preparing them for college,” said Audrey Dow, senior vice president of the Campaign for College Opportunity. She pointed out that the report shows that 39 percent of Latino high school students statewide passed the A-G college-required courses in the 2016-17 school year, compared to 52 percent of white students.

“That means that 60 percent of Latinx high school graduates are ineligible to apply to the state’s public four-year universities,” she said in a media conference call. “More Latinx are graduating high school, but the big gap is in A-G completion.”

Latino students make up more than 50 percent of the state’s public K-12 schools. And more are going to college. Since 2000, the number of Latinos going to college has grown by half a million. Of those who go to college, 9 out of 10 attend a public college or university. They represent 43 percent of all students enrolled in the public higher education system (Cal State, University of California or community colleges), but they’re not graduating college at the same rate as other ethnic groups. Fewer than 1 in 5 Latinos (18 percent) have either a two-year associate degree or a four-year college degree, compared to more than half of whites (52 percent).

In LA Unified, the largest school district in California and where three-quarters of all students are Latinos, 56 percent of its 2017 graduates passed their A-G courses with a “C” or better, which is required for UC and Cal State applications.

In June, the LA Unified board unanimously approved the “Realizing the Promise for All: Close the Gap by 2023” resolution, which committed the district to provide all students — including English learners, special education students, foster youth, and those living in poverty — with the support they need to graduate eligible to apply to a state four-year university.

“The Close the Gap resolution at LAUSD is the type of thinking and work that must occur to improve Latinx student success,” Dow wrote in an email to LA School Report. “From 100 percent literacy by the end of first grade, all 8th-graders passing math and English with a C or better, and ensuring students have a C or better in A-G coursework – the Close the Gap resolution sets a hard deadline – 2023 – to close gaps in college readiness, resources and opportunity gaps with a menu of high impact practices along the K-12 pipeline.”  

A study of LA Unified students’ pathways to four-year college, released this month by the Los Angeles Education Research Institute, revealed that Latinos with similar grade-point averages (GPAs) as whites still don’t apply to as many four-year colleges. The study suggests they may need more support throughout the college application process.

• Read more: 8 in 10 LAUSD seniors apply to college, and they submit more applications than their peers nationally, new study shows

“The future of California depends on the educational success of our Latinx population,” Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity, said during a conference call for media on the report

“As the largest demographic group in California and a vital contributor to our state economy, culture, and identity, our state and college leaders need to ensure we improve college opportunity and success and eliminate all barriers that keep Latinx students’ from accessing and graduating from college.”

Siqueiros called remedial education — classes that some students are required to take in college to make up for learning gaps in English, writing, reading or math — “incredibly problematic” for Latinos’ college success.

“When you see too many students placed in remedial courses at the community college, you see the low rate of success for them,” she said.

Siqueiros noted that a new state law this year, AB 705, “the new college new placement practice,” has been crucial to help Latino students because it requires community colleges to use students’ high school GPA’s when placing students into college-level courses rather than placement tests “because the research proves that’s a better indicator of performance for our students.”

The college transfer rate among Latinos represents another big barrier for college completion. The report shows that only 2 percent of Latino students transfer from community college to a four-year university in two years.

She said the report is calling on the new governor-elect to set a goal that 60 percent of adults have college degrees by 2030, and set a specific college degree attainment goal for Latino students. About 30 percent of Californians 25 years and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“We believe our next governor and legislators should set the goal to reach that 60 percent of adults with college degrees by 2030,” she said.

“He has made a commitment to closing racial equity gaps and to making sure all Californians have access to our four-year public institutions. He also made a commitment to ensure better representation especially in bodies that he appoints and better data tracking systems for students.”

The bad news for Latinos:

  • Only 18 percent of Latino adults have a college or associate’s degree, compared to 52 percent of whites.
  • The gap in bachelor’s degree attainment between Latinos and whites has not closed in the last decade but rather increased.
  • Only 2 percent of Latinos transfer in two years from community college to a four-year university.
  • Differences in six-year graduation rates between white and Latino students have increased at California State University and University of California schools. In the fall 2000 cohort class, 42 percent of Latinos graduated, and in 2010 that increased to  53 at CSU. At UC it increased from 38 percent to 49 percent.
  • Faculty, college leadership and governance are not reflective of the Latino population or student body.

The good news for Latinos:

  • Latino students who transferred to California State University campuses grew 10 percentage points between fall 2010 (57 percent) and fall 2016 (67 percent), thanks to the Associate Degree for Transfer which allows students to earn an associate degree in two years at a community college and then enter the CSU system as juniors.
  • Latinos have decreased the amount of time it takes for them to get a degree at University of California campuses. However, less than half (49 percent of the class who entered in 2010) graduated within four years. That rose from a decade earlier: for the class of 2000, only 38 percent graduated in four years.

Here are the report’s recommendations to ensure Latinos succeed in college:

  • Set a specific college attainment goal for Latino students.
  • Continue to increase capacity at the CSU and UC institutions to serve more Latino students.
  • Place more students directly into college-level courses at community colleges and provide them with adequate supports.
  • Expand the Associate Degree for Transfer to more students at CSU and UC institutions, which allows students to earn an associate degree in two years at a community college and then enter the CSU system as juniors — as long as they take specific courses for the majors they want to pursue.
  • Ensure California community colleges implement the Student Success Funding Formula for improving college completion rates including increasing the number of transfer students to the UC or CSU by 35 percent annually.
  • Expand access to financial aid and prioritize aid for low-income families.
  • Increase the proportion of Latino faculty, college and university leaders, and members of governing boards.
  • Collect and make available data on Latino students, faculty and leaders to hold institutions accountable, track progress toward goals, and help identify roadblocks for students.

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