Moving Forward: Increasing Latino Enrollment in California’s Public Universities

November 2007


Many people in California have called for measures to increase the share of Latino high school graduates that is eligible for enrollment in the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) as one strategy for increasing Latino educational attainment. Both advocates for equity in opportunities for higher education and those concerned about the future workforce and economy of the state see a need for more Latino students to enroll in the state’s public universities. Reforms are underway in the state’s K-12 education system to increase academic preparation for college, and UC and CSU are using outreach efforts to increase applications and enrollment. The state needs to ensure that it plans for the success of these efforts by having enough physical and resource capacity to accommodate any additional students.

This report will examine issues of UC/CSU eligibility among under-represented minority high school students, with a focus on the growing Latino population, including the potential impact on enrollments in UC/CSU of increasing eligibility rates. Following a description of the college attainment gap for Latinos and some general discussion of eligibility criteria and current eligibility rates, the report describes a simple model that can be used to estimate eligibility increases for Latinos and presents a sample scenario for changes in Latino eligibility rates and the impact on enrollments and overall eligibility among all high school graduates.

The Latino College Attainment Gap

Earning a college degree is more important than ever for individual economic success, and the share of young people successfully enrolling in and completing college has important implications for state and national economic competitiveness. In spite of dramatic increases in the number of Hispanic students enrolling in American higher education institutions, Latinos continue to be under-represented among those enrolling in and completing a postsecondary education, as shown in Table 1. Latinos represent a large and growing share of the working-age population in a number of states, raising concerns about the nation’s ability to maintain economic competitiveness and a healthy social and civic life.

Several recent studies have warned of the particular challenge California is facing to maintain an educated workforce given its large and growing Latino population. Data displayed in Table 2 summarize that concern, showing that the state’s Latino population is substantially under-represented with respect to both college enrollments and degrees awarded. While Latinos represent 43 percent of the college-age population, they represent only 13 percent and 23 percent of students enrolled in the UC and CSU, respectively. Latinos are under-represented in the community colleges as well, but to a lesser extent.

The under-representation of Latinos in higher education is partly a function of the large immigrant population – some college-age Latinos never attended California’s K- 12 schools, but arrived in the state as young adults with a low level of educational attainment. But attainment is also lower among Latino students attending California schools. The chance of a Latino 9th grader enrolling in college within four years (26%) is substantially lower than for a white student (38%). Lower rates of high school graduation are a larger factor than are differences in rates of college going among high school graduates.

  • There are a number of factors contributing to the lower rates of college enrollment among Latino students, including:
    • lower levels of academic preparation
    • lower family incomes
    • lower parental education levels
    • higher rates of dropping out of high school, and of earning a General Educational Development (GED) certificate or other equivalency rather than a standard high school diploma
    • lower educational aspirations among students as they enter high school
    • higher numbers of other risk factors including changing schools, being held back in school, having a low GPA, having a child while still in high school, and having siblings who dropped out.

Lower levels of academic preparation among California’s Latino students are, in part, related to their greater likelihood of attending high schools with insufficient offerings of college preparatory (a-g) courses, fewer highly-qualified teachers, and student-to counselor ratios that exceed the already-high average for all high schools in the state of one counselor for every 506 students. Among Latino college students, a number of factors contribute to lower rates of persistence and degree completion, including a greater likelihood of attending part-time and of stopping out for one or more terms rather than attending continuously.

The lower level of participation and success in higher education among Latinos has serious consequences for the state’s workforce and knowledge-based economy. Latinos represented 22 percent of the working-age population (ages 25 to 64) in 1990, growing to 29 percent by 2000, and expected to reach 40 percent by 2020 and 49 percent by 2040. Other states are doing a better job than California at educating their young people. California ranks second among the 50 states in the share of the population age 65 or older with an associate’s degree or higher, but its rank declines with each successively younger age group. Among younger workers ages 25 to 34, California ranks 30th among the states.

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