Higher goals: Working-class Latino families still struggling to crack California’s college dream

Report shows big gains in cutting high school dropout rates, despite university barriers

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the March 1, 2018, issue.

Latino students continue to fall between the cracks of California’s education system despite composing 51 percent of the state’s overall student population, according to a study from the western division of the Education Trust.

The report found that the number of Latinos receiving associate’s and bachelor’s degrees doubled over the last decade, yet Latino adults continue to be “the least likely to have a college degree.” The percentage of adults graduating college in that category only rose by 1 percent from 2005 to 2015.

The Education Trust is a coalition of groups advocating for greater higher learning participation, especially among people of color. The organization’s report identified a number of challenges when it comes to Latinos finishing college, including few Spanish-friendly or bilingual programs in preschools, a lack of access to classes that qualify students for state universities, and bias—knowingly or not—among teachers against steering Latino students toward rigorous coursework.

On the bright side, high school dropout rates for Latino students fell from 27 percent in 1994 to 13 percent in 2015.

State Sen. Ben Hueso said that California’s localized tax funding system for schools has created a “modern segregation system.” Hueso is a San Diego Democrat who leads the Latino Legislative Caucus.

“A working-class family can only afford a cheaper home—that means your school district gets less funding,” Hueso said in a phone interview. “If we really want to make education equal in the state, every system has to get the same money on a per-pupil basis.”

Regional universities have made some strides in Latino enrollment. Sacramento State’s Latino student population is on the cusp being the largest ethnic group of students. Across the 2016-17 school year, Sac State’s total enrollment was 28 percent Latino, 29 percent white, 20 percent Asian and 5.5 percent African-American.

Latino pride and history also found a noteworthy home at UC Davis, according to the report, where the Center for Chanx and Latinx Academic Student Success (aka. “El Centro”) provides peer counseling and social activities to reduce isolation among Latino students. Across the UC system, Latino enrollment has improved from 11 percent in 1999 to 21 percent in 2016. Schools like UC Davis continue to face retention issues though. The fall 2016 freshman class was 21percent Latino, compared to an overall student population that was 16.9 percent Latino.