Credit: Larry Gordon / EdSource
Los Angeles City College

Soon, many students attending California’s community colleges will likely need to take a class in ethnic studies in order to receive a degree. 

Keep reading below to learn more about the specifics of the proposed requirement.

Q: Who would have to take an ethnic studies course?

Under the requirement being considered by the statewide Board of Governors that oversees California’s 116 community colleges, all students pursuing an associate degree would be required to take a three-unit ethnic studies class. 

Those students would need to take a class in one of the four core ethnic studies disciplines: African American studies, Latino and Latina studies, Native American studies or Asian American studies. 

There would be no new course requirement, however, for students pursuing a certificate. The requirement would also not apply to students at Calbright, California’s online-only community college, since that college doesn’t offer degrees. 

Q: Is the requirement finalized?

Not yet. The statewide Board of Governors that oversees California’s 116 community colleges is expected to vote on the proposal at its next meeting in July. At the same time, a bill making its way through the Legislature, AB 1040, would create a similar requirement. That bill was passed by the Assembly and awaits a vote from the Senate. 

Q: When would it go into effect?

That has yet to be determined. After the Board of Governors votes on the change in July, the statewide community college Chancellor’s Office will form a task force to determine when the new requirement will be implemented.

It won’t take effect for incoming first-year students in fall 2021, but it could apply to incoming first-year students in fall 2022. So if you’re a student finishing up your junior year of high school and planning to attend community college after graduation to pursue an associate degree, this new requirement could affect you. 

Q: California State University is implementing its own ethnic studies requirement. Do students who transfer from community college to CSU need to take ethnic studies at both their community college and CSU campus?

No. If a student fulfills the ethnic studies requirement at a community college and transfers to a CSU campus, the ethnic studies course the student took at community college will meet the requirement, so long as that course has been approved by CSU.

CSU last year was required by law to create an ethnic studies requirement after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 1460, which requires CSU students to take an ethnic studies course. CSU chose to implement that requirement as a lower-division course. As a result, any student who completes lower-division coursework at a community college and takes an ethnic studies course approved by CSU will fulfill CSU’s requirement.

Q: Does adding a three-unit requirement mean it will take longer to earn an associate degree?

Not necessarily, but it’s possible and will depend largely on decisions made by local college leaders.

Aisha Lowe, the community college system’s vice chancellor of educational services and support, noted at a statewide Board of Governors meeting that individual colleges each have their own specific set of credit requirements for associate degrees.

“Our guidance to our colleges is very strongly going to be to look at the additional local requirements that are currently attached to their local associate degrees and to do everything in their power not to just lay this on top and increase requirements for students,” Lowe said.

For example, colleges can opt to have a course count for ethnic studies while also fulfilling other requirements.

Q: Will the same classes be offered at every college? 

No, probably not. There is great variation across California’s 115-degree granting community colleges. While some districts such as the Los Angeles Community College District have robust ethnic studies course offerings, many smaller colleges do not.

It will ultimately be up to each local college and its faculty to decide which specific courses meet the new requirement. Some colleges may end up cross-listing courses from departments outside the core ethnic studies areas. For example, a college could determine that a class in African American history fulfills the requirement, even if it’s offered in a history department rather than in an African American studies department.

Community college district chancellors and campus presidents across the state are calling on the state to allocate new funding to hire extra full-time faculty to teach additional ethnic studies classes, but it’s not clear if that will happen.

Q: What is the rationale for the new requirement?

Community college leaders across the state have testified that the requirement will help students to learn about the histories and contributions of nonwhite racial and ethnic groups.

Jose Fierro, president of Cerritos Colleges in Los Angeles County, said it will not only broaden the perspectives of white students, but will also benefit nonwhite students to have a curriculum that includes the histories and contributions of cultures beyond those of European peoples.

Fierro noted that Cerritos College is a Hispanic-serving institution, as designated by the federal government. Latino students make up a majority of the college’s enrollment, accounting for almost 70% of the student body.

“For me, it’s important to support this because it provides students with access to a diversified curriculum. The curriculum right now is largely Eurocentric, and I feel that having some representation for our students is incredibly important. It could potentially help with the students being interested and engaged in college and also help them be more successful,” Fierro said.

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