From a failing high school to a struggling college

At Los Angeles Southwest College, Foster Washington, 20, is taking an all-male class to prepare for college-level English. The class, “part of a program geared to young men of color,” provides two tutors in addition to the professor, reports the Los Angeles Times.  Students read and discuss Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass.

Washington wants to be the first to earn a college degree in his family of 12 siblings. “I have no time to hang out on the street with my homies; I want to be at school every day,” Washington told the Times. “Coming here gives me a sense of worth.”

. . . nearly all of the 8,000 students at Southwest have unmet social and academic needs, said Patrick Jefferson, dean of student services. About 96% need remedial math and English, and many are the first in their family to attend college. They grew up amid crime and poverty and graduated from local high schools that are among the lowest-performing in the state, he added.

Black and Latino community college students in Southern California often go from low-performing high schools to community colleges with poor transfer records, concludes UCLA’s Civil Rights Project.  While nearly 80 percent of California’s black and Latino college students enroll in a community college, only about three in 10 move on to a four-year institution within six years, the project’s research concludes.

California’s high-minority colleges have low transfer rates

Transfer rates are low at California community colleges with  high black and Latino enrollments, concludes the Civil Rights Project at UCLA in three new reports.

Almost 75% of all Latino and two-thirds of all Black students who go on to higher education in California go to a community college, yet in 2010 only 20% of all transfers to four-year institutions were Latino or African American. Pathways to the baccalaureate are segregated; students attending low-performing high schools usually go directly into community colleges that transfer few students to 4-year colleges. Conversely, a handful of community colleges serving high percentages of white, Asian and middle class students are responsible for the majority of all transfers in the state.  California ranks last among the states in the proportion of its college students who attend a 4-year institution, which is a key factor in the state’s abysmal record on BA attainment.

Dedicated staffers can make a difference, concudes Building Pathways to Transfer:  Community Colleges that Break the Chain of Failure for Students of Color, by Patricia Gándara, Elizabeth Alvarado, Anne Driscoll and Gary Orfield. The report analyzes five community colleges with relatively high transfer rates for students of color from low-performing high schools.

However, poorly prepared students are much less likely to transfer. The report calls for outreach to low-performing high schools to prepare students for community college challenges and “a radical rethinking of developmental education.”

Unrealized Promises: Unequal Access, Affordability, and Excellence at Community Colleges in Southern California, by Mary Martinez Wenzl and Rigoberto Marquez, shows that heavily minority, low-performing high schools in Southern California feed students into heavily minority community colleges where few students successfully transfer.

Because most California students start at community colleges, college graduation rates are low, concludes Beyond the Master Plan: The Case for Restructuring Baccalaureate Education in California.  Saul Geiser and Richard Atkinson recommend letting high-performing community colleges grant bachelor’s degrees to expand capacity.

“No state has bet its future so heavily on community colleges,” Gándara notes, “but these schools need resources and major reforms. Unless we make the colleges work for all Californians, we gamble with our future.”

California’s black high school graduates are less likely to enroll in state colleges and universities than in the past and much less likely than other groups to complete a degree, concludes Blacks in Higher Education, a state profile by the Campaign for College Opportunity.

 . . . just over half of black students graduate from high school, few are prepared to attend a four-year university, and fewer still actually enroll in a California college. . . . Of blacks who go to a public college in California, two thirds choose to start in the California Community College (CCC) system. Once there, only 1 in 4 earns a certificate, associate degree, or transfers after six years.

Black transfer students are more likely to choose for-profit colleges, which typically have lower graduation rates than state universities.