There is no argument — the future of our nation’s workforce will be dependent on Latinos.

It’s estimated that by 2050, Latino school children will make up a third of our country’s adult population. Not only for personal gain, but for the benefit of the USA’s economic strength, research indicates it’s essential for Latino students to have the benefit of a good K-12 education, and access to higher education that leads to the attainment of a degree. 

A recent “2021 State of Higher Education for Latinx Californians Report,” released by The Campaign for College Opportunity, indicates that while 43% of all undergrads in the state are Latino, half of Latino adults who went to college were not supported to complete a degree and didn’t cross the finish line to graduate, thereby under utilizing a tremendous source of talent and economic power.

The Latino population continues to grow. In California, Latinos are the largest racial or ethnic group. The last census data indicated the number of Latinos in California grew by 11% — about 1.6 million —  to number 15.6 million, while the number of white residents fell by 1.2 million or 8.3 percent, to 13.7 million.

The number of Asian residents grew by 1.2 million to make up about 6 million in California, and the number of Black residents fell by about 44,000 or 2 percent, to become approximately 2.1 million of the state’s population.    

“As the largest demographic group in California, it is imperative that California substantially raise the college-going and completion rates of the Latinx community. The state’s future is intrinsically tied to the success of its Latinx community,” said Michele Siqueiros, president of The Campaign for College Opportunity. 

“If a bachelor’s degree is the entry level credential for today’s workforce, California is creating a permanent underclass if we don’t seriously and urgently improve Latinx degree attainment,” Siqueiros said.

The report indicates that the Latino community understands the value of education. And there are positive trends: more Latino students are graduating from high school and more Latino students continue to enroll in college. There are more than 1.39 million Latino students enrolled in college in California, representing 43% of all college undergrads in the state. 

The “good news” the report includes:

● 87 percent of Latino 19 year-olds in the state have a high school diploma or equivalent credential compared to 73 percent 10 years ago; 

● 44 percent of Latino high school graduates in 2019-2020 were prepared for college and eligible for university admission; 

● Preliminary admissions data from the UC for fall 2021 shows an 8 percent increase in Latino admissions from fall 2020, and; 

● In the CSU system, four-year graduation rates have doubled from nine percent to 18 percent for Latinos and from 15 percent to 29 percent for Latinas over the past five years. 

However, the report also lifts the rug and identified the troubling trends indicating that despite larger enrollment numbers, too few Latinos are going to college right after high school. And California’s institutions of public higher education are not sufficiently supporting Latino students to graduate.

Too many students both in high school and in college appear to be  falling through the cracks. 

● More than half of California’s Latino high school graduates are not eligible for admission to the state’s public four-year university systems because they have not completed the A-G requirements to even apply for college;

● While 78 percent of Latino students enroll in a community college seeking to earn a two-year degree and/or transfer to a four-year institution — after six years, fewer than one-third (32 percent) are supported to transfer to a four-year college or university; 

● At the CSU, fewer than one in five Latino freshmen (18 percent) are supported to graduate in four years, and only 29 percent of Latinas enrolling as full-time freshmen are supported to graduate in four years, and; 

● Only 36 percent of Latino transfer students enrolling in the CSU who are male are supported to earn their bachelor’s degrees in two years, compared to 41 percent of their white male peers, and 50 percent of Latinas.

The report points to a number of policy and practice changes that are improving Latino student success, including the elimination of remedial education at California’s community colleges and the California State University, as well as efforts to streamline transfer via the Associate Degree for Transfer.

The report offered several recommendations that could increase success:

● Expanding Pell Grant access to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients as well as pathways to citizenship for all undocumented individuals;

● Committing to a statewide goal of ensuring that at least 60 percent of Latino Californians in the workforce hold a degree or high-value credential by 2030;

● Reevaluating the enrollment caps established under the California Master Plan for Higher Education and increasing enrollment of Latino students at the CSU and UC;

● Identifying, hiring, retaining, and promoting Latino faculty at California’s public colleges and universities;

● Increasing high school graduation rates for Latino students to 90 percent and making the A-G coursework the default curriculum for all high school students in California;

● Ensuring all high school seniors complete either a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or California Dream Act Application, and;

● Modernizing California’s financial aid system to be based on student need and eliminating artificial rationing devices.

The report’s authors also acknowledged the special role of Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) in California. Most of California’s public colleges and universities are designated HSIs — 106 community colleges, 21 CSUs and 5 UCs — meaning at least 25% of their student body is Latino. With this designation, these institutions receive federal funding to support Latino student enrollment and completion.

Latino professors have noted that checks and balances are needed as more colleges receive this designation to ensure that students are receiving adequate support.

“The value of a college degree cannot be overstated. Throughout the pandemic, we saw that individuals with a bachelor’s degree were more likely to stay employed, more likely to be able to work from home, and more likely to have reliable health insurance. A bachelor’s degree saved lives,” added Siqueiros. 

“As California emerges from the COVID-19 crisis, we must redouble our efforts to ensure more Latinx students graduate with college degrees, and that our colleges and universities reflect the rich diversity of the state’s Latinx population,” Siqueiros said. 

The full 2021 State of Higher Education for Latinx Californians report, as well as see what elected and higher education leaders are saying about the report, here: https://collegecampaign.org/portfolio/2021-state-higher-education-latinx-californias/

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