Improving Degree Attainment for Latino Students

by Lande Ajose

Executive Director

Bachelor's Degrees Community Colleges Race and Ethnicity

Looking at the demographics of California, it is clear that we can’t make much progress on closing the state’s degree attainment gap without vastly improving degree attainment for Latino students. That’s why I was pleased to be invited to participate in MDRC’s expert roundtable in Los Angeles on the Latino Academic Transfer and Institutional Degree Opportunities (LATIDO) project.

LATIDO is focused on improving transfer and completion rates for the state’s Latino students, with an emphasis on strategies that can be most effective at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). There are more than 100 HSIs in California, a substantial number of which are community colleges. The key topic at the roundtable was what community colleges can do to better launch students into their college careers, while also considering what four-year institutions can do to ensure that students cross the finish line. To better to understand these issues, MDRC will be developing case studies of six community colleges and CSUs to understand the pertinent issues on both sides of the coin.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the conversation centered on developing culturally relevant understanding of effective practices to support Latino students. (My surprise stemmed from the host organization’s reputation for executing gold standard random assignment studies.) It’s important that serious research outfits such as MDRC acknowledge and even elevate the forces that promote or prevent improved social outcomes that are difficult to quantify. Still, many other questions seemed worthy of deeper exploration, including:

  • How do the well-documented high-impact practices for college students more broadly apply to the state’s Latino students, and for which Latino students are these practices most effective?
  • How can efforts to improve transfer and completion rates be seamlessly integrated into existing initiatives, given the high degree of “initiative fatigue” faced at colleges?
  • What specifically needs to be adopted to support transfer and completion for “subpopulations” of Latino students, such as Dreamers?
  • How do you meaningfully engage faculty in promoting degree attainment for low-income students?
  • Is the biggest barrier to improving transfer and completion rates knowing what the right strategies are, or is it the money and political will to employ them?
  • Can deep structural inequities that impact educational achievement (e.g., historic K-12 finance patterns, segregated housing patterns) be addressed by simply creating a more supportive college-going culture for Latino students?

The importance of this discussion was underscored by the presence of the California Community College Chancellor Eloy Oakley. He wisely reminded the roundtable that this is not the first time that this conversation had occurred, and unless there was sufficient attention to realigning the incentives that could reinforce the execution of effective practices, it would not be the last.

It was a strong dose of reality that everyone took to heart.

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