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From high school to community college to universities, Black and Latino students in Los Angeles aren’t getting enough support, resulting in lower enrollment and completion rates in college compared to their white peers.
That’s the takeaway from a report published Friday by the Campaign for College Opportunity. The report details the experiences and outcomes for Black and Latino students in Los Angeles Unified high schools, at Los Angeles community colleges and at four-year public universities in the area. The report, “The State of Higher Education for Latinx and Black Angelenos,” says schools and colleges should do more to make sure students are admitted into college and succeed once they arrive.
The pandemic accentuated the problem: During the first year, first-time enrollment in the nine colleges in the Los Angeles Community College District in Los Angeles County plummeted 40% among Black students and 32% among Latino students.
It’s not all bad news. The report finds, for example, that the number of Black and Latino students completing the high school courses they need to be eligible for admission to the University of California and California State University has more than doubled over the last decade.
However, much work remains to be done. Big gaps remain between Black and Latino students and their white peers in meeting the requirements for CSU and UC admission. At Los Angeles community colleges, first-time enrollment among Black and Latino students dropped during the pandemic — by nearly a third for Latino students and even more for Black students. Also, very few Black and Latino students transfer from a Los Angeles community college to a four-year university. For students who do get to the universities, Black and Latino students earn degrees at lower rates than their white peers.
“Across ages and across systems, we need to do more to support Black and Latinx students,” said Vikash Reddy, senior director of policy research at the Campaign for College Opportunity and one of the report’s authors.
The report calls on high schools to make sure students are not just accessing the courses they need for college but also doing well enough in them to be admitted to four-year universities. On the higher education front, the report calls for stronger transfer pipelines for Black and Latino community college students and for colleges to make sure those students don’t get stuck in noncredit remedial classes. The report also says four-year universities should not only work to expand enrollment of Black and Latino students but also make sure those students can transition well to university life and successfully graduate.
Beginning with the graduating class of 2016, Los Angeles Unified aligned its graduation requirements with A-G course requirements, or the classes that students must take to be eligible for admission to UC and CSU. However, some students complete those classes and graduate without earning the minimum letter grade they need for admission to CSU and UC — a C or better.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, the percentage of students completing their A-G courses and earning at least a C in those classes fell from 53% to 46% for Black graduates in LAUSD and from 63% to 54% for Latino graduates. For white students, the percentage of students completing A-G courses and earning a C held steady at 67% during the pandemic and has since increased to 75%.
The rates of Black and Latino students completing the A-G courses have since rebounded to their pre-pandemic levels, but there are now even wider gaps between Black and Latino students and their white peers in that area. Pre-pandemic, the gap between white and Latino students in A-G completion was 3%, and 13% between white and Black students. Now, the gap between white and Latino students is 12% and the gap between white and Black students is 17%.
The report points out that in 2015 the district adopted a policy that allows students to graduate as long as they earn at least a D in their A-G classes. Five years later, more than 10,000 graduates discovered that the D grade allowed them to graduate but not to apply to UC or CSU. The report calls on the district to support students enough that they not only graduate but also earn the minimum grades required for those universities.
The dramatic number of Black and Latino students who dropped out of community colleges in the Los Angeles district was cited as a significant problem. The declines are in line with national and statewide trends of community colleges suffering steep enrollment declines during the pandemic. California has especially seen enrollment losses among male students, older students and Black, Latino and Native American students.
The report doesn’t offer solutions for addressing enrollment declines associated with the pandemic, but the community colleges have worked to reengage students who dropped out. Efforts include making sure students are aware of emergency financial aid awards and support services like academic counseling.
In addition to the enrollment declines, just 10% of Black and Latino students who enrolled at a community college in the Los Angeles district in 2017 transferred to a four-year university within three years, according to the report.
One way to help reverse those trends, according to the report, is to strengthen the Associate Degree for Transfer, a pathway guaranteeing admission to UC and CSU for students who earn the credits associated with the pathway.
Reddy said legislation passed last year, Assembly Bill 928, is a good start to improving the pathway. The bill requires CSU and UC to establish a joint lower division general education pathway for admission into both systems. It also requires community colleges to place students in the pathway once they declare an intent to transfer.
The report also advocates for community colleges to become stronger implementers of Assembly Bill 705, a law passed in 2017 designed to make it easier for students to bypass noncredit remedial classes and enroll in classes they need to transfer. Supporters of the bill point to research showing that students placed in remedial classes rarely complete college.
Under the law, students who enroll directly in transfer-level classes but need extra help can get that support by simultaneously enrolling in what’s called a co-requisite course, where they receive extra help with their coursework.
According to the report, only three colleges in the Los Angeles district are strong implementers of the law when it comes to course placement in English, and not one is a strong implementer for math.
“We need to ensure that once students are in the door, they’re not wasting time in courses that they don’t necessarily need,” Reddy said.
For students who get to a four-year university, achievement gaps persist. Across all five CSU campuses in Los Angeles County, white students graduate at higher rates than their Black and Latino peers. And while graduation rates are high for Black and Latino students at UCLA — 73% of Black and 78% of Latino students complete their degrees in four years — the rates are higher for white students. Among white students at UCLA, 86% graduate in four years.
Reddy pointed out that transitioning to a four-year university can be challenging and said campuses need to ensure students have access to support services, like advising.
The report also advocates for increased state funding to grow enrollment at the four-year universities, especially UCLA, a highly competitive campus. Despite accounting for nearly 75% of students in Los Angeles Unified, Latino students make up just 21% of undergraduates at UCLA. Black students, meanwhile, make up 5% of undergraduates, compared to 8% of students at LA Unified.
“The goal is definitely to make sure that LAUSD students can look at UCLA as a reasonable goal for them,” Reddy said. “It shouldn’t be something where this campus in their backyard is out of their reach. That’s something we find problematic.”
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