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USC study examines higher education decisions by Latinos

Merrill Balassoneby Merrill Balassone
A report released by the Center for Urban Education looks at how Latinos are faring in California's higher education system. (USC Photo/Brian Goodman)
Photo: A report released by the Center for Urban Education looks at how Latinos are faring in California's higher education system. (USC Photo/Brian Goodman)

What’s behind the college-going gap for Latino students in California?

Many researchers point to disparities in the state’s K-12 education system, but a new USC analysis shows that even Latinos graduating from the state’s best public high schools are far more likely to attend community college than their peers from other ethnic groups.

Among graduates of public high schools that ranked in the top 10 percent statewide, 46 percent of Latinos enrolled at a community college, as compared to 27 percent of whites, 23 percent of African-Americans and 19 percent of Asians, according to the report released on Nov. 13.

These same Latino high school graduates are also the least likely of any ethnic group to attend a University of California campus, with 5 percent going on to attend a UC.

“These findings display highly stratified patterns of college-going in California,” said lead author Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux, a senior fellow with USC’s Center for Urban Education (CUE) and assistant professor at George Washington University. “They show that it’s not just preparation per se that’s driving students’ college decision-making. There are a lot of other factors, from issues of cost and accessibility to state colleges limiting enrollment due to budget cuts.”

The report is one of four released by (CUE), based at the USC Rossier School of Education, and the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at the USC Price School of Public Policy that examine how Latinos are faring in the state’s higher education system and within Hispanic-serving institutions that enroll student populations that are 25 percent or more Latino.

Statewide, Latinos represent nearly half of the state’s college-aged population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“This is not a ‘special interest’ issue; it has very real consequences and implications for the economy of the state and the country,” Malcom-Piqueux said. “We as Californians need to pay attention to this particular issue and understand that when we invest in education and college access to four-year institutions, it’s really an investment in the future of our state.”

Among some of the other findings:

  • Latinos continue to experience inequities in transferring to four-year institutions. While the group represented more than 43 percent of the full-time enrollment at California’s Hispanic-serving community colleges, only 33 percent of students who transferred from these schools to the California State University system were Latino. Similarly, they represented just 21 percent of students who transferred from these community colleges to the UC system, according to “Latinos Experience Inequities in Transferring From Hispanic-Serving Community Colleges to Four-Year Institutions.”
  • While Latinos represent 45 percent of California’s college-aged population, they earned just 31 percent of bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), according to “Equity in STEM Outcomes at California’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions.”
  • In California’s Hispanic-serving community colleges, Latino and white students were found to earn an associate degree or certificate, transfer to a four-year institution or achieve transfer-prepared status at roughly the same rates. Sixty-five percent of first-time Latino students and 69 percent of white students successfully completed one of these milestones, according to “Higher Education Budget Cuts Have Reduced Access for Latinos.”

“It is in the best interest of all Californians that more Latinos earn a bachelor’s degree, that more of those who meet the admissions requirements for the University of California actually enroll and that a larger share of the thousands of Latinos in community colleges transfer to four-year colleges,” said Estela Mara Bensimon, co-director of CUE.

“California’s system of higher education, especially Hispanic-serving institutions, will greatly influence whether California becomes a divided state with a separate and unequal Latino majority or the 21st-century model for Latino inclusiveness,” Bensimon added. “The persistence of inequity in higher education participation and attainment will reduce the proportion of college-educated adults, which in turn will have detrimental effects on the state’s economy, workforce preparation and the quality of life of aging baby boomers, as well as to aspirations to be a society that provides equal opportunities regardless of race or socioeconomic status.”

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