Latino students trail other groups in college enrollment, report says

File photo: A report from the nonprofit research and advocacy group Campaign for College Opportunity says Latinos need more support to increase their admissions to University of California campuses like Berkeley.
File photo: A report from the nonprofit research and advocacy group Campaign for College Opportunity says Latinos need more support to increase their admissions to University of California campuses like Berkeley.
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A report out Thursday by a Los Angeles research and advocacy group said that the University of California and other public colleges need to do more to open admission to Latino students, and they need to take race and ethnicity into account.

The Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonprofit focusing on equal access to college, said California's future economic success depends on producing 2.3 million more college-educated workers by 2025.

"It is impossible for us to meet these workforce goals without significantly increasing the number of Latinos who go to college and graduate," the report said.

The good news is Latinos are graduating from high school, completing the classes to apply to four-year public universities, and enrolling in larger numbers than previously, the report said:

They are more likely to have high school diplomas and college degrees than they were two decades ago. Even more promising, each generation of Latino Californians is more educated than previous ones. 

But the report states Latinos are less likely to hold college degrees than other racial/ethnic groups, trailing in college readiness, enrollment and degree completion rates:

Too few find themselves in community colleges or universities where they are adequately supported to reach their graduation dreams. 

The nonprofit describes students who are eager to gain admission to a University of California campus, but who encounter stiff challenges.

Claudia Peña, a 2008 high school graduate, falls into that group. "I work at In-N-Out, and I’m a student at Cypress College as well as Long Beach City College," she told KPCC.

Peña said it's taken her seven years to get to college because it’s been hard to balance school with helping her mother pay the bills. And, she said, she's gotten little guidance from counselors to transfer to a University of California campus.

Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity, said policymakers need to improve college funding and colleges need to help students like Peña.

"The future of our state and our economy is going to either rise or fall based on what happens to Latinos educationally," Siqueiros said.

The report blames "institutional weaknesses" rather than a lack of students' dedication for disparities in enrollment and degree completion. Among the problems it cited: "a broken remedial education system in college, and weak coordination between our high schools and colleges."

College cost, a lack of student support and limited course offerings also contribute to dropout rates and the longer times required to get a degree, according to the report.

Students and their families need to be informed in middle school about their college options, financial aid and the academics required to get admitted, the report said.

Potentially controversial, the report added that, "based on the data, it is also time to allow California’s public universities to use race/ethnicity as one of many factors in weighing an applicant’s qualifications for admission."

Use of race and ethnicity for public education and employment is prohibited under Proposition 209, approved by voters in 1996. The report said Prop 209 contributes to why Latinos are significantly under-represented in the University of California system, particularly at UC Berkeley and UCLA.

Admission rates for Latinos between 1994 and 2013 have fallen by 45 percentage points at Berkeley and 46 points at UCLA, the report said. That compares to 25 points for all applicants in Berkeley over the same time period and 33 for all at UCLA.

Latino enrollment is mostly concentrated at UC Riverside and UC Merced.

A University of California spokeswoman said UC welcomes the recommendations from the nonprofit's report.

She said Latino admission at UCLA and UC Berkeley has gone up, but adds the demand at all campuses far exceeds capacity.

Do you think Prop 209 should be amended to take race and ethnicity into account as part of admissions to California public colleges and universities? Add your comments below.