LOS ANGELES – College success remains an elusive goal for many students in Los Angeles County, according to a supplement to the statewide "Divided We Fail: Improving College Completion and Closing Racial Gaps in California’s Community Colleges" report released jointly this week by The Campaign for College Opportunity and the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy (IHELP) at Sacramento State University, The Downey Patriot reports.
“Although Los Angeles County Community Colleges are struggling to improve student success rates, the results of this report show that we have a long way to go to achieve the levels of student success needed to create one million additional college graduates for California’s workforce needs by 2025,” said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of The Campaign for College Opportunity. “In Los Angeles County, community colleges are a critical gateway for students to participate in the local economy. The region is home to the largest community college population in the state with nearly half a million students enrolled, including the largest number of Black and Latino college students.
"Given the sheer magnitude and diversity in Los Angeles County, and the needed training of our workforce, improving student success is absolutely vital," she continued. "Unless we are ready to settle for a younger population that is less educated than we are, we must ensure more students who go to college earn a certificate, degree or transfer to a four year university.”
Siqueiros warned that the current state budget crisis will only compound the completion challenge.
“Drastic cuts to our community colleges will close the doors of higher education to thousands of students," she said. "As Californians, we all benefit from an educated citizenry and we all need to pitch in and support our institutions of higher education by standing up against any further cuts to our colleges and universities. At the same time, we must encourage our college leaders and policymakers to put students first and encourage changes that will increase college success rates now.”
Los Angeles County is home to 20 community colleges. Combined, these colleges serve almost half a million students (approximately 447,392), 50% of whom are Black or Latino. The regional report tracks 60,026 degree-seeking students who entered a California community college (CCC) in Los Angeles County during 2003-04 over six years and analyzes their progress and outcomes by major racial/ethnic populations.
The report found the following:
•71% of degree-seeking students had not completed a certificate or degree, and had not transferred to a university, with most of the non-completers having dropped out. Los Angeles County had lower rates of completion, transfer, and certificate attainment than the statewide average.
•There were significant disparities across racial/ethnic groups in rates of progress and completion, with only 20% of Latino students in Los Angeles County completing compared to 39% of whites. In fact, Latino and Black students accounted for 56% of degree seekers but, only 39% of completers.
•Only 31% of degree seekers had transferred to a university, with only 13% of Latino students transferring, compared to 24% for their white counterparts.
•A large share of transfer students are enrolling in the for-profit sector, where students are often saddled with substantial debt and employability prospects remain unclear. Black and Latino students in Los Angeles County are especially likely to transfer to for-profit institutions (19% and 16% respectively) compared to white and API students (6%) and to leave the CCC system with far fewer credits completed than are required to transfer to one of the state’s public universities.
"There is no institution in the United States, private or non-profit, that could survive in the long run with a 30% success rate,” said Blair Taylor, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League and co-releaser of the report. “The data in the 'Los Angeles County Divided We Fail' report is cause for significant alarm. We need to revisit the purpose of our community colleges and remember that we must put students first. We must improve the performance of our students and focus not on what’s in the best interest of adults but preparing students to be a part of the workforce and economy.
"Plain and simply, our young people are not prepared to compete," Taylor added. "We need more elected officials willing to stake their careers on educational reform. We need to focus ourselves on publicly stated goals for completion and measurement of those goals. We need to reaffirm and recommit to partnerships and dialogue between community colleges and our community based institutions if we are going to turn things around."
Los Angeles’ business community is also keenly focused on the challenge at hand regarding student success.
“It is in the best interest of our local economy to have an educated workforce to provide the innovation necessary to keep Los Angeles competitive in a global economy. California must ensure that its public and private sectors will be able to tap into a pool of talented, well-educated citizens who will bring creativity, invention, innovation, entrepreneurship, industriousness and high levels of productivity to the region’s future,” said L.A. Area Chamber president and CEO Gary Toebben. “Improving community college student success is the first of several outcomes that can make a significant contribution to regional growth and prosperity.”
In addition to tracking the cohort’s progress over six years, Divided We Fail also contains recommendations for improving student success locally and in the state. These include:
•Collect data on student progress by race through milestones and ensure that the colleges use the results of these analyses to guide changes to campus practices.
•Provide colleges with local flexibility from onerous statewide rules and regulations linked to providing the support services students need to succeed.
•Support a new statewide funding model that rewards colleges for helping students progress through college milestones and onto successful outcomes.
•Take steps to ensure that all degree-seeking students are assessed for college readiness and are directed appropriately into courses that will expedite their transition to and success in college-level instruction.
•Increase Transfers, Associate Degrees and Certificates by prioritizing these pathway opportunities for students.
•Set goals across all three segments for college participation and degree completion, identify the policies and investments needed to reach these goals, and monitor progress toward them.
According to Siqueiros, this data reaffirms the important charge of the Task Force on Student Success led by the Community College Chancellor’s Office to examine and recommend to the legislature how California’s Community Colleges can improve student success. The Task Force is charged with making recommendations for creating a student success measurement framework, setting degree completion rates, and looking to alternative funding models that incentivize college completion.
“All Californians should be engaging the task force and putting pressure on them to deliver a plan that will close the completion gap” said Siqueiros.
“Business as usual approaches and incremental actions will not produce the needed changes in the outcomes and gaps documented in this report,” said Nancy Shulock, report co-author and executive director of IHELP. “In today’s fiscal environment, resources must be used more efficiently to increase student success. Through the current funding formula, Californians, in effect, invest in access to community colleges irrespective of success. Some good funding models are emerging by which states invest in access and success. California should join those states in finding equitable ways to incorporate incentives for student success into the college funding model.”
Local health providers who are already facing workforce shortages are uniquely concerned about increasing student success and the data presented in the report.
“Community Colleges play a pivotal role in providing a well-qualified health workforce that can meet the future demand of the state, said Teri Hollingsworth, vice president of human resources services for the Hospital Association of Southern California. "New and innovative models of educating and training health professionals must be developed to increase access to education and provide opportunities for more students to pursue careers in health care. Our state policymakers must also ensure adequate funding for colleges and place a high value on health workforce preparation and student success. Collaboration of the state, Legislature, education and industry is important to effectively address this issue.”