This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

Researchers examine why fewer Latino, black community college students transfer

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Researchers with the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA have examined why California’s community colleges are doing such a poor job of transferring Latino and black students on to four-year colleges and universities.  
 
The three studies, which were publicly released Tuesday by the research group in the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, shed light on the faulty mechanisms underlying California’s poor record of transfer and make sweeping recommendations on what must be done to help more students of color earn college degrees.
 
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A college degree is eluding many Latino and black community college students in California. UCLA researchers wanted to know why.
Almost 75 percent of all Latino and 66 percent of all black students who go on to higher education in California go to a community college. But in 2010, only 20 percent of all students who successfully transferred to four-year institutions were Latino or African American. The handful of community colleges in the state who are responsible for the majority of transfers serve high percentages of white, Asian and middle-class students, according to researchers with the Civil Rights Project.
 
“It is time to have an honest conversation with the people of California about making improvements in our higher education system,” said Patricia Gándara, co-director of the Civil Rights Project, in a prepared statement. “Either we make bold changes in the system or we consign the majority of our students of color to a life with few prospects, and we condemn the state to a future in decline.”
 
In a state in which half of all high school graduates are black and Latino, California ranks at the bottom among states for the proportion of its college students who attend a four-year institution.
 
In the three reports, the researchers looked closely at five community colleges who were more successful at transferring students of color from low-performing high schools; examined high schools segregated by race, ethnicity, poverty and language background and their students’ path to community colleges with low transfer rates; and zeroed in on the failure of the state to keep up with population trends and provide more capacity at four-year colleges and universities.
 
Success stories
 
At five community colleges that are doing a good job of transferring students of color who come from low-performing high schools, the researchers found a core group of school staff who dedicated their efforts to helping students transfer. Many shared similar backgrounds with students, and, to a great extent, reached out to students in high school to prepare them before they arrived.
 
But these campuses, like most of the others in the community college system, were hampered by structural requirements for developmental education or remedial coursework before students can transfer.
 
There were also other impediments. “We were shocked to find that in colleges where many students need intensive counseling, counselors have faculty status, and less than half of their time is spent on one-to-one counseling,” said Gary Orfield, co-director of the project. “This arrangement makes no sense.”
 
Unequal access to higher education
 
In a detailed analysis of all high schools and community colleges in Southern California, researchers found that segregated high schools with weak academic records are feeding students into heavily minority community colleges where few students transfer successfully.

“Unfortunately,” said Orfield, “the community colleges tend to repeat the patterns of the low-performing high schools, resulting in few transfers — this makes a mockery of the promise of equal opportunity.”

Moving beyond the Master Plan
 
California’s Master Plan for Higher Education has been a conspicuous failure in one respect, researchers said. The state ranks near the bottom of all 50 states for the proportion of its college-age population that earns a college degree.
 
While this problem is sometimes blamed on the failure of community colleges to transfer more students, researchers found that there is a more fundamental problem: There’s a lack of capacity at four-year institutions in relation to the size of the state’s college-age population. The state is critically short of four-year public colleges, they said.
 
This restriction on access at four-year institutions adversely affects all students, but especially students of color, they said. California ranks 45th for the proportion of underrepresented minority population that attains a B.A., according to the researchers.

Unplugging the pathway for students of color

If the promise of fair access to higher education is to be realized, the report makes clear, then it has to happen in the community colleges. Among the remedies recommended by researchers at the Civil Right Project are these:
 
•    Increase outreach efforts to students at low-performing high schools to prepare students for success at community college and radically rethink developmental education in an effort to reduce the remedial coursework barriers.
•    Reward successful community colleges as an incentive to others to improve their transfer rates.   
•    Given the lack of resources to build new four-year campuses, the state should grant some excellent community colleges the authority to award bachelor’s degrees to build capacity.

“No state has bet its future so heavily on community colleges,” Gándara noted, “but these schools need resources and major reforms. Unless we make the colleges work for all Californians, we gamble with our future.”
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To see executive summaries of these studies, go to:
 
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