Colleges use data to improve

California’s community colleges must commit to change in order to raise graduation and transfer rates for black and Latino students, write Estela Mara Bensimon, Alicia C. Dowd and Linda J. Wong of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California. By analyzing data closely, some Los Angeles community colleges are leading the way, they write.

Under a new law, community college students who complete 60 units with a C average or better will be guaranteed third-year status at a California State University campus. But Latino and black students, who make up 40 percent of the community college population, need help to benefit from the streamlined transfer process.

In 2008, L.A. Southwest College . . . found that from fall 2002 to spring 2007, only 13% of its black students who enrolled in basic-skills math went on to college-level math. The performance of its Latino students was better but not satisfying: 32% of English-learners had progressed from basic math to college math.

. . . Learning support services for students were beefed up. Math teachers moved their student advising hours from their offices to the school’s math labs. Tutoring focused on the content of math courses, and lab hours were added to each of the basic-skills math courses.

Long Beach City College examined thousands of records of first-time students enrolled between 1999 and 2005.  A large number of students, including many blacks and Latinos, had dropped out when they were only one or two courses short of being eligible for transfer.

The college concluded that students hadn’t received enough help or information to complete the transfer process or qualify for financial aid.

In response, the college’s website now features information on transfer requirements and procedures, and a transfer academy was established to speed up the paperwork involved in moving from a community college to a four-year school. The school has committed itself to monitoring the transfer rates of black and Latino students to see how the changes are working.

Another new law gives the community colleges’ board of governors two years to develop a plan to improve completion and transfer rates. Data analysis will be key to improving success rates for high-need students in the community college system.

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