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Report finds Latino, Black students in LA experience higher education inequities

Students walk around UCLA’s campus. A February report found that Latino and Black students in Los Angeles experienced disparities in higher education, including a lower transfer rate compared to peers. (Sakshi Joglekar/Assistant Photo editor)

By Jessica Gonzalez

April 3, 2022 9:51 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Gándara said students who enter college as freshmen often have better retention rates than those who enter universities as transfers from community college. In fact, these students often have higher graduation rates.

This post was updated April 4 at 7:50 p.m.

Latino and Black students in Los Angeles continue to face disparities in enrollment and resource allocation within institutions of higher education, according to a February report.

In the report, The Campaign for College Opportunity, a foundation that seeks to make college education accessible for all students, discussed the issues Latino and Black students face as they seek admission to institutions of higher education with an emphasis on the LA area. According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic was a key factor in reducing Latino and Black enrollment in the LA Community College District, as these groups faced more difficulties with housing, health care and other resources because of the pandemic.

The report found that Latino and Black students from the LA Unified School District have had lower levels of A-G requirement completion. The A-G requirements are a set of courses California high school students must complete in order to become eligible for University of California and California State University admission.

These groups also experience lower transfer rates than their white peers at community colleges, which can make it difficult to graduate with a bachelor’s degree on time, the report stated.

Patricia Gándara, a research professor of education, said Latino students along with Black students are currently overrepresented in community colleges but face lower levels of graduation despite efforts from community colleges to improve these rates.

“The chances of actually graduating with a degree six years after enrollment are pretty low. Somewhere between 17 and about 30%, depending on how you count it, of the students who intend to get a degree actually get a degree,” Gándara said.

Gándara said both students and parents need greater access to bilingual counselors at every stage of their academic career.

“We also need to think about what kinds of support students need once they get to college and once they get to the university,” Gándara said. “I don’t think we’ve done enough work in that area to understand how we support them to be successful.”

The report recommends that universities prioritize on-time graduation, outreach and community-building efforts for students in underrepresented groups.

Sylvia Hurtado, an education professor, said low-income, Latino and Black communities often receive fewer visits and less outreach from university representatives, creating a cycle of underenrollment among these groups of students.

“It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy in that you don’t go there because you don’t think you’re going to get anybody and you don’t get anybody because you don’t go there,” Hurtado said.

Hurtado added that it is important to inform students about finances so they may fill out their own financial aid applications and understand all of their options.

Audrey Dow, the senior vice president of The Campaign for College Opportunity, said the state government and universities, including UCLA, can ensure these marginalized communities are represented in their enrollment figures.

“This is about UCLA making a concerted effort to say we need to do better at serving the students in our local region and we are going to ensure that they find a spot here at their local UC,” Dow said.

At the community college level, leaders must make the Associate Degree for Transfer – a community college degree program that ensures admittance to certain four-year institutions – more accessible to prioritize Latino and Black students’ transferability, according to the report.

Dow said the state can increase enrollment at the university level for these groups by working to allocate a larger share of the California state budget to public universities.

“It’s something that the legislature can help address … if we really want to address racial equity, which every UC says it does. … Invest more in higher ed such that UCLA can expand and have more available seats for students,” Dow said.

The report authors also stated that creating a clear path from high schools to institutions of higher education is necessary to address disparities in the enrollment and retention of these marginalized students.

According to the report, the successful completion of the A-G requirements with a C or higher should become a goal for high schools to best prepare Latino and Black students for higher education.

Gándara said students who enter college as freshmen often have higher graduation rates than those who enter universities as transfers from community colleges. She added that it’s preferable to see Latino and Black students enroll in college directly after high school to increase their chances of receiving their degree.

Hurtado added that, ultimately, universities should cater to their students’ needs to reduce disparities in higher education.

“Part of the reduction of inequalities is also changing the institution, not changing the student to fit it,” Hurtado said. “It’s really changing the institution so that we better serve students.”

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Jessica Gonzalez
Gonzalez is a national news and higher education contributor. She is a first-year transfer student at UCLA majoring in political science and minoring in Chicana/o and Central American studies.
Gonzalez is a national news and higher education contributor. She is a first-year transfer student at UCLA majoring in political science and minoring in Chicana/o and Central American studies.
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