Community colleges play a large role in educating California’s Black students. California is home to the nation’s fifth largest Black population, with approximately 2.16 million Black residents. The majority of Black students in California are enrolled in community college and for-profit colleges, according to a recent report from the Campaign for College Opportunity.
The report found that college readiness is a significant issue for California’s Black students. Blacks are more likely to attend high schools that do not offer Advanced Placement or upper-level math classes, compared to White and Asian students. Only 31 percent of Black high school graduates in California took the sequence of A-G high school coursework required to apply for a four-year public university in California in 2013.
“Right off the bat, you have a graduating high school class that’s completely ineligible for that opportunity,” said Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity. “So you are going to see a high number [of Black high school graduates] enrolling in and going to community college, which is obviously a great option if students want to stay closer to home and earn a certificate or a degree.”
Community colleges do much to provide access and opportunity for all the state’s residents. However, students who are placed into their remedial education sequences prior to taking college-level, credited classes have much lower graduation and transfer rates than the students who start out in college-level classes.
Black students going to community college disproportionately start out in remedial education, according to the report. An 87 percent of Black students place into remedial classes in California community colleges. Of the Black students who start out in college-level classes at community college, 64 percent will earn a certificate or degree or transfer within six years. Only 33 percent who start out in remedial education graduate or transfer. The outcomes for Hispanic students are notably very similar, at 63 and 34 percent transfer or completion rates, respectively.
The recession appears to have had a negative impact on the number of Black students enrolling in college. The number of Black freshman enrolling and transferring declined after 2007, with a particularly precipitous decline in the California State University (CSU) system. The exact reasons for the decline are still unclear. Siqueiros said that it may be because of budget cuts, but it also may have to do with changes in how students report their race. Biracial or Black Hispanic students may be identifying as only Hispanic, creating a statistical, but not actual drop in Black students at CSU.
Black students were and remain underrepresented in the University of California (UC) system. The Black students that do attend UC are concentrated in three campuses: UC Riverside, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz. Only 4 percent of Black first-time freshman enrolled in the UC in fall 2013, compared to 62 percent who enrolled in California’s community colleges.
On a more positive note, the report found that Black enrollment in California colleges is up from a decade ago. Some 150,000 Black students were enrolled in college in 2013. As the report noted, this is a 33 percent increase from 2004, when there were 127,000 Black students in the California college system.
That optimism is tempered in light of insufficient college completion rates and a drop in the number of Black students attending California State University. “Without a clear, focused agenda for how we’re going to better serve black students in California and how we’re going to close these gaps, it’s just not going to magically happen,” Siqueiros said.
Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org