Beyond Affirmative Action

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Reposted: August 2, 2017 (Previously posted May 1, 2014 | Written by: Michele Siqueiros, President, The Campaign for College Opportunity)

Race is in the news. Whether it’s State Senator Hernandez’ proposal (SCA-5) to have California voters repeal the ban on Affirmative Action in California higher education, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the State of Michigan’s repeal of Affirmative Action in college admissions, or the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers who earned a lifetime ban and fine from the NBA for his disparaging remarks, the issue of race is front and center.

Here in California, we have to get comfortable talking about race and the very real disparities in educational outcomes we see between ethnic groups in a thoughtful way that allows us to seek solutions. This past March, Latinos became the largest ethnic minority in the state, making up 39% of the population. Today one in two Californians under the age of 18 is Latino. Latinos are followed by Whites who make up 38.8% of our state residents. California is home to more African Americans than the states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. And one out of every three Asian Pacific Islanders in the United States lives here. The success of California is tied to the success of each and every one of these groups.

Our focus on college access and success cannot be met without addressing our need to improve college-going and completion rates for all students, regardless of background. And while it may seem ideal to think that race does not or should not matter, the data (along with many individuals’ personal experience) proves that it does. It is a fact that educational opportunity and attainment gaps exist by race and we have to find solutions to ensure that all of our students have the preparation and support they need to succeed and reach their college dreams.

Affirmative action is not the only solution. And, the ban of affirmative action in college admissions should not excuse our policymakers or education leaders from addressing the racial/ethnic gaps in our state. The return of affirmative action in college admissions may or may not change anytime soon, but that should not stop us from working to close the racial gaps that exist in California’s colleges and universities today and expanding the number of spots in our community colleges and universities so that we don’t leave our students competing for fewer and fewer admissions letters.

In fact, the single biggest lever by which we can increase the number of underrepresented college students who earn a degree or certificate is by focusing on success at our community colleges. Almost 70% of California college students attend one of our 112 community colleges, and yet less than half will earn a college degree, certificate or transfer within six years. This is why we’ve advocated for strong transfer reform legislation and this year we are pressing for a degree audit bill (SB 1425) that will ensure students who have earned a degree, get it, and those who are close to earning it, know what they have to do to finish. It’s common sense. We are also excited by the resources in the Governor’s proposed budget for next fiscal year that allocate innovation grants and resources for student success. More is needed, and it should be clear how every new dollar will directly improve outcomes for students.

I’m also really excited about supporting and expanding the work of the California Acceleration Project. When 70% of students in our community colleges are labeled as underprepared for college level work, and too few of them ever get out of remedial courses – something needs to be done. Amazing faculty leaders like Myra Snell from Los Medanos Community College and Katie Hern from Chabot College aren’t waiting. Their efforts to accelerate students through remedial courses is a proven success. Their students are 4.5 times more likely to succeed. Why aren’t we doing this in every community college in California?

So what’s the plan? What else can be done beyond affirmative action to increase college going and completion for our underrepresented students of color?

This month we kicked off our statewide listening tour to help us develop a bold new plan for higher education in California. One that provides clear direction and goals to increase college attainment, completion, and closes gaps by race/ethnicity. A plan that reflects the diverse needs of today’s students and responds to the workforce needs of our state.

The Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy has provided us with a vision for discussion. In their newest publication, A New Vision for California Higher Education: A Model Public Agenda, two scenarios are presented for obtaining additional degrees and certificates by 2025. Neither of which ensures our public colleges and universities produce the 2.3 million more college grads we need by 2025, making it clear that we need a truly bold and different approach to higher education in our state.

It is time for a bold vision and plan for higher education that includes budget and interrelated policy reforms supported by our Governor and policymakers and implemented by our college leaders. And, any such vision and plan must tackle the issue of race head on. What we learn from our Listening Tour will be the foundation of a vision and plan which we will present directly to the Governor, legislators, and leaders in education, civil rights and business sectors. Action by our state leaders on this vision and plan will make the difference between a more prosperous California or not. I hope you will join me.

About the Author:

Michele Siqueiros is the Executive Director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.

To read her complete bio, click here. Follow her on Twitter @MSCollegeOpp

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