Access at the Crossroads Blog
These blog entires identify best practices to increase success for historically-underrepresented college students including excerpts from my book, Access at the Crossroads. Click here to subscribe to this blog.
By Daniel Solórzano, Amanda Datnow, Vicki Park, and Tara Watford with Lluliana Alonso, Virginia Bartz, Christine Cerven, Nichole Garcia, Karen Jarsky, Nickie Johnson-Ahorlu, Makeba Jones, Maria Malagon, Jennifer Nations, Kelly Nielsen, Mike Rose, Yen Ling Shek, and Susan Yonezawa.
Within the context of the country’s economic downturn and its need for greater postsecondary participation, Pathways to Postsecondary Success: Maximizing Opportunities for Youth in Poverty was designed to provide scholarship and policy recommendations to help improve educational outcomes for youth in low-income communities. This final report of the five-year Pathways project provides findings from a mixed-methods set of studies that included national and state analyses of opportunities and obstacles in postsecondary education (PSE) for low-income youth, detailed case studies of approximately 300 low-income young adults preparing for or pursuing PSE in three California counties, and the development of a set of indicators to monitor the conditions in community colleges. This project was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Key Findings: What Matters Most?
Our study revealed five key things that matter most for understanding and improving low-income students’ success in postsecondary education.
1. Student Voices Matter. Having numbers that show how many students enroll and persist in postsecondary education is important, but unless we understand from students why these outcomes occur, we run the risk of misunderstanding patterns and implementing ineffective interventions. Hearing student voices is essential to understanding their pathways to and through postsecondary education.
2. Diversity Matters. Low-income youth are a diverse group with a wide range of experiences. Paying
attention to the similarities and differences in this population of students can help us better plan college success initiatives.
3. Assets Matter. Deficit approaches blame low-income students for their lack of success, or they blame educational institutions for failing students, often without recognizing the challenging fiscal, policy, and practical constraints they operate within. In work designed to improve student success, it is essential to focus on both student and institutional assets. Our research uncovers the remarkable strengths students bring and the many positive programs that exist in educational institutions. This asset-based approach helps us understand how to design programs that better tap into and foster students’ strengths in order to support college success.
4. Connections Between K–12 and Higher Educat ion Matter. Postsecondary success is not a story that begins once a student sets foot on a college campus. High quality K–12 schooling and a host of college preparatory resources and activities must be provided in order to ensure college-going success for all students.
5. Institutional Supports and Conditions Matter. To ensure that low-income students’ college aspirations are affirmed and their academic needs are met, institutional supports are essential. As students persist to and through college, they face critical transitions along the way, and certain conditions function as a “guard rail” for keeping them on the path towards college completion.
In sum, low-income students are a diverse group who bring many assets to the educational enterprise. Their talents need to be fostered in order for them to realize the gains that education can bring to them, to their families, and to society as a whole. Supporting low-income students in postsecondary education requires an institutional commitment to their success, high quality curricula and instruction, ongoing advising and mentoring, integration of support services and resources, and streamlined pathways to completion (West, Shulock, & Moore, 2012). To support student success, four provisions—maps, compass, fuel, and tools—are necessary to help students understand their pathways and stay on track as they navigate their college experience. We observed many positive examples of these elements in our research. The challenge is to make these conditions a reality for more students.
By Christine Cerven, Vicki Park, Jennifer Nations, and Kelly Nielsen. Community colleges play a central democratizing role in the U.S. postsecondary education system. These institutions pride themselves on a long history of open admissions policies that uphold their mission of serving all segments of society. Indeed, if not for community colleges, the overall higher education system would enroll far fewer racial and ethnic minorities and fewer first generation, low-income, and immigrant students (Bragg & Durham, 2012). Community colleges serve a diverse student population; 16% of these students are single parents, and a majority of that group are single mothers (Goldrick-Rab & Sorensen, 2010). Of all household types in the United States, those headed by single women continue to have the highest poverty rates. In 2010, 32% of households headed by single females were poor, compared to 16% of those headed by single males and 6% of married couple households (National Poverty Center, 2013). Thus, it is reasonable to assume that lowincome single mothers who enroll in community colleges may face a range of challenges as they persist to degree or transfer. Open access policies are not enough to ensure low-income single mothers complete college. For many students, open-access policies make it easier to attend college. However, these policies are only the first step; they do not ensure that these students will persist and complete their goals. For students with limited means, multiple taken for-granted needs must be met in order for schooling to become a realistic part of daily life. For low-income single mothers, these needs include stable housing, steady employment and income, reliable transportation, dependable childcare, and assurance that the basic needs of family members are being met. Only after these necessities are in place can other endeavors such as education become a possibility.
By Daniel G. Solórzano, Nancy Acevedo-Gil, and Ryan E. Santos. Latina/o students are the largest and fastest growing group in the K–12 sector of U.S. education (Lee et al., 2011; U.S. Census Bureau,2012). Nationally, there are over 12 million Latina/o students in the K–12 population—23% of the overall total (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011a). In California, 53% of all K–12 students are Latina/o (California Department of Education, 2013). This rapid increase in the Latina/o student population impels us to examine their postsecondary educational pathways. Notably, 80% of California Latina/o postsecondary students enroll in community colleges (Moore & Shulock, 2010).2 As Figure 1 shows, Latina/o enrollment in the California Community College (CCC) system is at an incline, while white student enrollment is declining. In 2010, Latinas/os surpassed the white student population as the largest group in the CCC system. These figures make clear that community colleges represent an increasingly vital postsecondary entry point for Latina/o students. Relatively few Latina/o community college students persist to transfer, obtain a certificate, or complete a degree. The CCC system is designed to provide basic skills education, life-long learning opportunities, Career and Technical Education (CTE), and the opportunity to transfer to four-year colleges. On average, out of 100 Latinas/os in California who enroll in a CCC, four will complete a CTE degree and 14 will transfer to a California State University (CSU) and/or a University of California (UC) campus (Figure 2).3 Therefore, large numbers of students leave school without a certificate or degree. Thus, in spite of increasing enrollment, the community college system also represents the point in the educational pipeline where we lose the greatest number of Latina/o students (see Moore & Shulock, 2010; Ornelas & Solórzano, 2004; Rivas, Perez, Alvarez, & Solórzano, 2007; Solórzano,
Villalpando, & Oseguera, 2005).
By Maria C. Malagon, Lluliana Alonso, Robin Nichole Johnson-Ahorlu, and Yen Ling Shek. The California Community Colleges (CCC) system is central to maintaining the state’s commitment to higher education access. Through its certificates, degrees, workforce programs, and transfer pathways, these institutions open the doors of higher education to all, serving more students than any other postsecondary education segment. But a large number of community college students arrive on campus underprepared and require some form of remediation before they are deemed ready for more advanced courses. And unfortunately, even though these courses provide a vital foundation for many students, those who place into basic skills courses are less likely to progress to college-level coursework and earn postsecondary credentials (Bailey, 2009; Grubb, 2013; Solórzano, Acevedo-Gil, & Santos, 2013). The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (2009) defines basic skills as “those foundation skills in reading, writing, mathematics and English as a second language, as well as learning skills and study skills, which are necessary for students to succeed in college-level work” (p. 4). To determine whether they possess such skills, community college students take placement exams to measure their abilities in these core subject areas. Based on the results, they may be placed into course sequences designed to build basic skills. Once placed, they must complete these sequences before they are eligible to enroll in the college-level (or transfer-level) coursework that is required for an associate’s degree, transfer to a four-year university, or completion of some credential programs. Specific placement thresholds—or “cut scores”—vary by college, as do developmental course sequences (Melguizo, Bos, & Prather, 2011). Figure 1 presents examples of developmental course sequences in reading and mathematics.
California’s College Stopouts: The Significance of Financial Barriers to Continous School Enrollment
By Veronica Terriquez, Oded Gurantz, and Ana Gomez. In California, the majority of four-year and community college students do not complete their intended degrees and certificates on time (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2013; Fain, 2013). Many of these students “stop out”—that is, they leave college with the intention of returning later. Discontinuous enrollment is highest for students with lower academic preparation and lower socioeconomic status (Ewert, 2010; Goldrick-Rab, 2006). This is particularly troubling in light of the recent economic recession and the rising cost of higher education, which have both made paying for college more difficult. Students from lowincome backgrounds in particular may find they need to take time off from school to save money or to help their families pay their bills. Unfortunately, college students with discontinuous enrollment have significantly reduced likelihood of ever completing their degrees (Cabrera, Burkum, La Nasa, & Bibo, 2012), making this an urgent problem for higher education researchers and policymakers. In this policy brief, we describe the range of influences on the attendance patterns of California’s college students, focusing in particular on economic factors. Drawing from the mixed-methods California Young Adult Study (CYAS), we classify stopouts as students who enrolled in public or private community or four-year colleges and took a break from school for a term (quarter or semester) or more, not including summer, with the intention of returning. We include individuals who were on break from school but still planned to pursue postsecondary degrees, as well as those who had previously taken time off and successfully re-enrolled in postsecondary institutions. Who stops out of higher education? Over one third of students—and more men than women—stopped out of college. Overall, 37% of CYAS survey respondents who attended college reported stopping out at some point (Figure 1). Male students were more likely to stop out than female students (42% compared to 31%, respectively). Some students of color and those from low-income backgrounds were more likely than others to stop out. For example, 44% of Latino youth stopped out, compared to 34% of white youth. Results further suggest that African Americans exhibited high stopout rates, while Asian Americans exhibited comparatively low stopout rates.
By Leticia Oseguera. Students from low-income backgrounds are less likely than their peers to enroll in and complete college, thus limiting their employment prospects in a job market that demands increasingly higher skill levels. Often, reform efforts designed to address this problem focus on individual factors such as academic performance or parental education level. But an over-emphasis on student characteristics at the expense of attention to school culture and climate undermines a more complete understanding of student achievement. By exploring high school institutional factors—including academic curriculum, teacher qualifications, and school commitment to college access—we can explain the variation in the postsecondary pathways of students from low-income backgrounds more fully than if we focus only on family or “cultural” factors.2 If we overlook what is going on within schools, we may limit the potential impact of current policy initiatives on the academic success of low-income students. A focus on strengthening schools is a more proactive approach to ensuring student success. Earlier findings on the four-year trajectories of a national cohort of tenth graders illustrate profound differences in the pathways of students from low- and higher-income families and the central role of their high school experiences in preparing them for a range of postsecondary options.bIn previous analyses, only 14% of students raised in poverty completed a college preparatory curriculum when they were in high school, while close to a third (32%) of students whose families were not in poverty did so. A majority (57%) of lower-income students who finished high school without completing this type of curriculum pursued postsecondary education at the two-year level; just 34% enrolled in four-year institutions. In contrast, lower-income students who had completed an academic concentrator curriculum were more likely to enroll in four-year schools (75%) than in two-year colleges (23%). Higherincome students, on the other hand, largely entered four-year colleges and universities, whether they had (84%) or had not (49%) completed an academic concentrator curriculum. This previously published research is a stark reminder of the importance of school conditions in determining the obstacles that students face as they prepare for post-high school education and a range of career options.