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‘The system is working for some and not for others’: Los Angeles advocates, educators offer solutions to reverse decline in college readiness among Black & Latino students

Destiny Torres | February 22, 2022

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Maywood Center For Enriched Studies (MaCES) Magnet school students (Los Angeles Times / Getty Images)

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This article is part of a collaboration between The 74 and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. 

The stark decline in college readiness among LAUSD Black and Latino students brought educators and advocates together last week to discuss what to do about it.

The report by the Campaign for College Opportunity found the percentage of Black and Latino students in Los Angeles schools completing courses that make them eligible to attend California’s state universities plunged in 2020. 

The percentage of Latino students who completed courses making them eligible to attend California universities plummeted from 63 percent to 54 percent; while the percentage of Black students dropped from 53 percent to 46 percent. 

At the same time, the percentage of white students who completed the courses increased slightly from 66 percent to 67 percent.

While completion rates rebounded in 2021 for all LAUSD students once they returned to in-person classes, the gap between white students and students of color persisted.

The report also found the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) saw a reduction in first-time enrollment by 32 percent for Latino students and 40 percent for Black students. Of those, only 6 percent of Black students and 7 percent of Latino students earned a degree or certificate within three years of enrolling.

During the same period, only 1/3 of Black students graduating from LACCD with an associate degree were eligible to enroll in Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) programs, designed to help students make it into a four year California State University.

At the webinar sponsored by the group, educators and advocates discussed how Black and Latino students can be better supported to close the equity gaps.

1. Ensure the 15 courses required by the California state universities – known as A-G requirements with classes in English, math and science — remain part of LAUSD’s graduation requirements; and that students pass those classes with a “C” or better

A-G completion rates for LAUSD graduates. (The Campaign for College Opportunity)

“We know that we have to focus on A-G as the goal,” said Mónica García, LAUSD board member. “We want every student to be prepared to make choices when they arrive at 12th grade… to make choices about life and career.”

Dr. Ana Ponce, executive director of Great Public Schools Now, pointed out the current system is not working for all students.

“One of the starkest findings was that while the … percentage of Black and Latino students meeting A-G requirements dropped during the pandemic, white students actually increased,” Ponce said. “And so, the system is working for some and not for others.”

Gaps in A-G completion between Black and Latino graduates and their white peers. (The Campaign for College Opportunity)

García said the equity gap was created because white students had access to technology during the pandemic in comparison with students of color.

“Which population had access to technology in a way that wasn’t relying on L.A. Unified? Which population had housing stability?” said Garcia. “What you’re seeing is Black and Latino children rely heavily on the public sector services in education. We’re 90 percent kids of color and the pandemic hit many of these communities.” 

2. Ensure all high school graduates have better access to financial aid:

Advocates also called on state officials to increase financial aid to increase the number of students of color. 

“Our state needs to do a better job at ensuring we are funding those enrollment spots at our universities,” said Michele Siqueiros, president of Campaign for College Opportunity. “We are excited about the governor’s budget proposal to … make sure we invest in a multi-year funding plan…”

Francisco Rodriguez, LACCD chancellor, acknowledged these are difficult times for Black and brown families to focus on college when they have struggled financially from the devastating effects of the pandemic.

“52 percent of city students live at or below poverty. 85 percent are on some form of financial aid,” Rodriguez said. “So, our Black and brown families are working.”

Siqueiros said while parents are working, not enough is being done in schools to help families secure financial aid. She recommended high school counselors help students fill out financial aid forms. 

3. Community colleges need to better support students who want to transfer to universities and to complete their degree within at least four years:

“We need to improve support for students to transfer through the Associate Degree to Transfer program and … completion,” Siqueiros said. 

Three- and four-year graduation rate for Black, Latino and white students at LACCD. (The Campaign for College Opportunity)

Associate degree-earners awarded ADTs at a Los Angeles community college. (The Campaign for College Opportunity)

Community colleges must make sure community college course work is as rigorous as four year university classes. 

“Our students deserve to be put in college-level courses, not in ineffective remedial courses that we know do not succeed and where disproportionately Black and Latino students are placed,” she said.

4. Universities must do better in supporting Black and Latino students to graduation, and in community outreach:

 “We urge our universities to do a better job at supporting students to completion,” Siqueiros said. “We have asked our universities to also expand their outreach and engagement and enrollment of students.”

As a University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) alumna, Siqueiros said it was “abysmal that only 21 percent of UCLA undergraduates are Latino in a city that is a majority Latino city.”

Four- and six-year graduation rates for first-time, full-time students and LA County CSU campuses. (The Campaign for College Opportunity)

Destiny Torres is a graduate student at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism pursuing a master of science degree in journalism. She earned her bachelor’s degree at CSU Dominguez Hills. She is passionate about culture and social justice issues. 

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