Report: Despite graduating from the state’s best schools, Latinos choose community college

November 13, 2013

Nearly half of Latinos who attend the top performing California high schools will attend community college after graduation, far more than their peers in any other ethnic group; only 5 percent attend a University of California campus

Contact: Merrill Balassone at (213) 740-6156 or

What’s behind the college-going gap for Latino students in California?

Many researchers point to disparities in the state’s K-12 education system, but a new USC analysis shows that even Latinos graduating from the state’s best public high schools are far more likely to attend community college than their peers from other ethnic groups.

Among graduates of public high schools that ranked in the top 10 percent statewide, 46 percent of Latinos enrolled at a community college, as compared to 27 percent of whites, 23 percent of African-Americans and 19 percent of Asians, according to the reports released Wednesday.

These same Latino high school graduates are also the least likely of any ethnic group to attend a University of California campus, with 5 percent going on to attend a UC.

“These findings display highly stratified patterns of college-going in California,” said lead authorLindsey Malcom-Piqueux, a senior fellow with USC’s Center for Urban Education and assistant professor at the George Washington University. “They show that it’s not just preparation per se that’s driving students’ college decision making. There are a lot of other factors, from issues of cost and accessibility to state colleges limiting enrollment due to budget cuts.”

The report is one of four released by the Center for Urban Education (CUE) and the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at USC that examine how Latinos are faring in the state’s higher education system and within Hispanic-serving institutions that enroll student populations that are 25 percent or more Latino.

Statewide, Latinos represent nearly half of the state’s college-aged population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“This is not a ‘special interest’ issue; it has very real consequences and implications for the economy of the state and the country,” Malcom-Piqueux. “We as Californians need to pay attention to this particular issue and understand that when we invest in education and college access to four-year institutions, it’s really an investment in the future of our state.”

Among some of the other reports and their findings:

– Latinos continue to experience inequities in transferring to four-year institutions. While the group represented more than 43 percent of the full-time enrollment at California’s Hispanic-serving community colleges, only 33 percent of students who transferred from these schools to the California State University system were Latino. Similarly, they represented just 21 percent of students who transferred from these community colleges to the UC system. (“Latinos Experience Inequities in Transferring from Hispanic-Serving Community Colleges to Four-Year Institutions”)

– While Latinos represent 45 percent of California’s college-aged population, they earned just 31 percent of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) bachelor’s degrees (“Equity in STEM Outcomes at California’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions”)

– But in California’s Hispanic-serving community colleges, Latino and white students were found to earn an associate degree or certificate, transfer to a four-year institution or achieve transfer-prepared status at roughly the same rates. Sixty-five percent of first-time Latino students and 69 percent of white students successfully completed one of these milestones. (“Higher Education Budget Cuts have Reduced Access for Latinos”)

“It is in the best interest of all Californians that more Latinos earn a bachelor’s degree, that more of those who meet the admissions requirements for the University of California actually enroll, and that a larger share of the thousands of Latinos in community colleges transfer to four-year colleges,” saidEstela Mara Bensimon, co-director of the USC Center for Urban Education.

“California’s system of higher education, especially Hispanic-Serving Institutions, will greatly influence whether California becomes a divided state with a separate and unequal Latino majority or the 21st-century model for Latino inclusiveness,” Bensimon added. “The persistence of inequity in higher education participation and attainment will reduce the proportion of college-educated adults, which in turn will have detrimental effects on the state’s economy, workforce preparation, and the quality of life of aging baby boomers, as well as to aspirations to be a society that provides equal opportunities regardless of race or socioeconomic status.”

About the Center for Urban Education
Established at the University of Southern California in 1999 as part of the University’s urban initiative,
 the Center for Urban Education (CUE) leads socially conscious research and develops tools needed for 
institutions of higher education to produce equity in student outcomes.
 Housed at the USC Rossier School of Education, CUE is committed to closing the racial-ethnic equity gap and improving student outcomes in higher education.

About the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute
The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, housed at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, was long recognized as one of the nation’s oldest and most well-recognized think tanks on Latino issues. It was relaunched in 2011 as a university research center under the direction of Professor Roberto Suro with a broadened focus that views the growth of the Latino population as a point of departure for a wide range of inquiries. Beyond its research mission, the Institute will organize student activities, professional training and academic convening and will develop a portfolio of digital dissemination platforms.