Despite making up a growing proportion of California’s population, Latinos are less likely than whites, Asians, and blacks in the state to have graduated from a four-year college. The rollout of a new program that allows some community colleges to grant bachelor’s degrees has the potential to change that. But a new report from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project cautions that the degree gaps aren’t going to close unless the schools and state lawmakers are willing to acknowledge and deliberately focus on them.
California is the 22nd state to allow community colleges to award four-year degrees. As with the 21 states before it, lawmakers who shepherded the proposal to fruition touted the workforce benefits in order to win over the business community. “Virtually nobody” approached the idea as a way to increase the equity of access to bachelor’s degrees, said Patricia Gándara, the co-director of the Civil Rights Project and the lead author of the report, despite the fact that the program could provide a path to higher education for young people in the state who have traditionally struggled to gain access.
Right now, California is nearly 1 million bachelor’s degrees shy of where it needs to be to be strong economically. While nearly half of whites and almost 60 percent of Asians in the state have a bachelor’s degrees, just 27 percent of blacks and 13 percent of Latinos hold bachelor’s degrees. Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately concentrated in community colleges, and many fail to transfer to a four-year university after they earn an associate’s degree, despite the fact that more and more jobs require a bachelor’s. “This is the grand opportunity to break the back of that problem,” Gándara said.