Upcoming Publication: The Possibility Report – From Prison to College Degrees in California.

“Coming out of prison, I was indigent, and I had to rely on the various social service agencies for housing and practically everything else. Every housing program that could offer me a place to stay considered it problematic that my intention was to be enrolled full-time in college. Every program administrator I met with during that transitional period – including my assigned parole agent – attempted to discourage me altogether from continuing to pursue an education. Every program or agency I sought assistance from distinctly frowned upon my stated plan of working toward a university degree.”
– Tim, UC student

California’s criminal justice and education policies have cemented a school-to-prison pipeline that has impacted far too many historically marginalized communities of color, particularly Black and Latinx men. The state has a responsibility—if it is serious about tackling racial injustice—to dismantle that system. Ensuring that incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people can access and succeed in higher education is one way the state can step up to end the school-to-prison pipeline.
 
Today, there are nearly one-quarter million individuals incarcerated in federal, state, and local institutions in California. More than 95% of incarcerated people will eventually come home one day, as evidenced by the nearly half a million people on parole/probation today. Ensuring college opportunity means that hundreds of thousands of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals will have greater employment opportunities, lower recidivism rates, greater social mobility, and the transformation and empowerment of individuals, their families and communities that comes from a college degree.
 
In February 2021, the Campaign for College Opportunity will release a new research brief titled, The Possibility Report: From Prison to College Degrees in California. The brief will include descriptive demographics of California’s incarcerated and paroled populations, a landscape analysis of the policies that make college-going opportunities available for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students, and an inventory or programs offered by the state’s colleges and universities. Most importantly, the brief includes the voices of formerly incarcerated students from all three of California’s public higher education system segments—the University of California (UC), the California State University (CS), and the California Community Colleges—describing the barriers students encounter in pursuing a college degree. Finally, a series of recommendations for campuses and the state are presented to address the systemic barriers in California’s education system and create more opportunities for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students to improve their lives and California’s economic health.
 
I had the distinct honor of facilitating the three virtual regionally, racially, and gender diverse focus groups that informed our brief. With a healthy cross-section of students representing the California Community Colleges, UC, and CSU, we focused our time together on the following two questions: How do formerly incarcerated students experience their transition from incarceration to California’s public colleges and universities? What barriers and opportunities are formerly incarcerated students encountering in California’s public colleges and universities?
 
What we learned is that regardless of when or where a formerly incarcerated student attended college, common experiences emerged that present serious challenges to higher education persistence and success. The following five findings from our focus groups must be addressed by California’s higher education system and criminal justice system if the state is serious about breaking the school-to-prison pipeline and strengthening the state’s economic health by increasing degree attainment for hundreds of thousands of individuals:
 

  1. The parole and probation systems in California do not prioritize higher education and often prevent formerly incarcerated Californians from achieving their educational goals.
  2. Requirements to access housing leave formerly incarcerated Californians with unstable living situations, creating an environment inconducive to going to or staying in college.
  3. Formerly incarcerated students straddle two employment problems: Finding work and balancing the need to work with attending school.
  4. Targeted student support services are key to college retention but are inconsistent across campuses, and in some instances, the responsibility to create relevant support services falls on formerly incarcerated students themselves.
  5. Campus advisors lack the specific knowledge and understanding to properly advise students with criminal records on career opportunities.

When the report is released, I urge you to read what we learned from these brave students and take action, from wherever you stand, on the policy recommendations we put forward. Like all qualified students, currently and formerly incarcerated students deserve access and support to go to college, persist, and graduate.

If 2020 was a re-awakening from the historical legacy of racial injustice in the United States, 2021 needs to be a year of concrete action. This new year brings opportunities via budget allocations and policy recommendations that can improve the quality of life for currently and formerly incarcerated people, their families, and their communities in California.

“In 2016 when I started [college], I felt out of place, alone. Nobody wanted to sit next to me, I was the oldest one in the classroom. I was kind of out of place. So, I asked my teacher, this woman that literally changed my life. I asked her where the parolees at? And she goes, ‘I don’t know. Let me find out.’ We managed to find somebody that could get the parolees together. And I managed to start a club.”
– California Community College student

Danny Murillo
Danny Murillo
Author, The Possibility Report
Co-Founder, Underground Scholars
Former Program Analyst, Campaign for College Opportunity

Virtual Event: Voices of Freedom

Join us and the California Community College Rising Scholars Network for “Voices of Freedom” to hear from currently and formerly incarcerated students and their stories of resilience on their pathway to a college degree. Danny Murillo will also join to present the findings of this report.

REGISTER

Community college leaders urge voters: vote YES on Prop 16

Pamela Haynes
Cassandra Jennings

The California Community Colleges Board of Governors voted recently to endorse Proposition 16 on the November ballot, doing so unanimously and with clear understanding of what it means to create more equitable opportunities for all people. This endorsement is a critical step toward achieving long-sought equity in higher education, especially for people of color.

But such clarity is not seen by all. In fact, there is a great deal of confusion – dare we say, denial – around exactly how the necessary passage of Prop. 16 would help correct years of inequitable practices and historic injustices this country was built around:

Didn’t we erase inequality in California when we banned consideration of race, sex and ethnicity in 1996? No. Will there be quotas in college admissions? No; quotas have been illegal since 1978. Will this ultimately help improve student outcomes and access to social and economic opportunities? A resounding yes.

In this era of social unrest due to racism and the outcry over the murder of George Floyd, many lessons continue to be learned, a primary one among them is we have a chance to get it right. We can start right here in California with measures that consciously promote programs, initiatives and policies that embrace community and inclusion.

Prop. 16 will repeal, Prop. 209, that began misfiring when it went into effect in 1996, making California one of only eight states in the U.S. that disallows consideration of race or gender in decisions on hiring or accepting students into public higher education institutions. We have backslid ever since, and equity in higher education has suffered greatly.

Within the community colleges system, which doesn’t have admissions restrictions, 73 percent of our 2.1 million student population are students of color, immigrants or both. Compared to their white counterparts, Black and Latinx students have low transfer and completion rates because the means to support them don’t exist in the way they should.

The reasons why we need to open paths to opportunity seem obvious. Blacks have below-average health outcomes directly due to a lack of equal opportunity; three percent of physicians in California are Black even though they comprise six percent of the population; expanding access through equal opportunity initiatives and investment will pave the way for young Blacks to potentially become physicians and researchers.

Prop. 209 put 30 years of affirmative action on ice in California in 1996, prohibiting consideration of race, sex and ethnicity in admission to public employment, public education and public contracting. The argument for that move was to eliminate such consideration in the interest of equality.

But, it didn’t work. Prop. 209 hindered equality by deterring higher education systems like the California Community Colleges, University of California and California State University from implementing race-conscious programs, such as those designed to ensure equitable access.

Prop. 16 would begin to correct and repair the damage done by perpetual discriminatory practices and policies. In higher education, Prop. 16 would have the effect of reinstating affirmative action to permit colleges and universities to implement race-conscious strategies to communities of color in terms of student recruitment, counseling, and other supports, as well as hiring of administrators and faculty.

The treatment of countless other people of color gives new urgency to this correction for California. Prop. 209 has actually reduced the percentages of underrepresented students admitted to public higher education institutions in our state, it is in direct conflict with our community college Vision for Success and efforts to close equity gaps.

Transfer and completion rates are startling. The fact is, UC and CSU students are our students at community colleges, too. If our students of color are provided with important race-conscious programs to encourage enrollment and transfer so they can complete a degree, their transition to a four-year institution will be smoother. Even though community colleges do not have admissions requirements and accept the top 100 percent of students, a holistic approach that includes race-conscious policies across all levels of the higher education journey is imperative.

It’s time to do so and it is right in line with the California Community Colleges recent Call to Action, urging system leaders, faculty, staff and students to join together to fight systemic racism within higher education. Such CCC programs, bolstered by the passage of Prop. 16, would include much-needed targeted recruitment and enhanced outreach to communities of color.

Another impact of Prop. 16 will be the increased hiring of faculty and leadership of color. It is empirically proven that decreasing racial and gender gaps among our instructors and administrators will improve student outcomes. Seeing yourself in those you are being guided by is vital and can be achieved with diversity, equity and inclusion.

Our social unrest demands we do things better. The economic uncertainty in these strange pandemic times has led us to where we are today. We need not be uncertain or confused at all about equity. Characteristics of our humanity, our race, gender, ethnicity and more make us who we are. Why would we not consider the whole person as we work toward an equitable coexistence in this land of opportunity?

by Pamela Haynes, Vice President of the California Community Colleges Board of Gorvenors,
and Cassandra Jennings, President and CEO of the Greater Sacramento Urban League and Co-Chair of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Black and African American Advisory Panel

An Open Letter to California Voters from California Students: Vote #YesonProp16

Dear California Voters,

The California Students Higher Education Advocacy Round Table (HEART) is a coalition of student-led organizations, associations and partners from across California dedicated to cultivating and empowering the next generation of student leaders by providing an ongoing venue for community college and university students to have statewide conversations and collaborate on key priorities in public higher education.

The California Students HEART coalition recognizes that our higher education system does not reflect the racial, ethnic or gender diversity of California in its student body, faculty, staff, and leadership, hurting our students and the state economy. This is largely due to California’s ban on affirmative action which prevents California’s prestigious colleges and institutions from considering race as a factor in contracting, hiring, and admissions.

As a coalition representing students from across the state’s public higher education segments, we are asking you to join us in voting Yes on Prop 16. It is time for young people to come together: the fight to dismantle systemic racism is on the ballot in California.

In California, we believe in giving everyone, regardless of race or gender, an equal shot at fair wages, good jobs, and quality schools. But the truth is we’re not yet living up to those values; systemic racism and sexism still hold too many young Californians back in hiring, employment, promotions, and educational opportunity.

As a result, students of color are underrepresented across all sectors of higher education in California. Although Californians between the ages of 18-24 are 47% Latinx, only 42% and 27% are enrolled in a California State University or University of California school. Black students are also heavily underrepresented in the California State University and University of California where only 9% and 3% of students are Black. Additionally, women in California earn less than 80 cents on every dollar compared to white men. For women of color and single moms, it’s far less. In states that allow affirmative action, women and people of color earn higher wages and are able to compete on equal footing for state contracts. But right now, California is one of only 9 states that bans affirmative action. That’s why businesses owned by people of color in California receive only 57% of the contract dollars that they would if opportunities were equal, and women receive only 29%.

We all do better when everyone has a fair chance to succeed. For too long, the wealthy and well-connected in California have controlled access to lucrative careers, top universities, promotions, state contracts, and other opportunities.

They keep picking people like themselves over well-qualified people from different backgrounds. Prop 16 is our generation’s chance to dismantle California’s inequitable systems.

We ask that you join us in voting #YesOnProp16, repealing the ban on affirmative action and leveling the playing field for young women and people of color to access our college institutions.

For more opportunities to get involved in the Yes on Prop 16 campaign, click here.

Sincerely,
The California Student Higher Education Advocacy Round Table (HEART)
Comprised of leadership from the three segments of California’s public higher education’s student associations


Sign the petition Download the letter

In Memoriam: Dr Alma Salazar

In Loving Memory of Dr. Alma Salazar

Just over a week ago, Dr. Alma Salazar died after a hard-fought battle with cancer.

Alma was a trailblazer leading efforts to ensure the business community was engaged in supporting the DREAM Act for undocumented students and financial aid for all as an executive at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and UNITE-LA. We were lucky to have her wisdom on the California Community College Board of Governors, but I was especially fortunate to call her my friend.

Alma was a quiet but strong force, who carried herself with grace, seriousness and an incredible amount of wit that came in handy after a long day’s work. She directly impacted the lives of millions of California students – most of whom may not know her name, but who have access to financial aid and a quality higher education because she helped fight for it. She championed good public policy, but also knew that wasn’t enough, so she made sure that California students had access to one-on-one financial aid application support. Even as she did all of this important work, she never sought the limelight or any credit – even though she deserved tons of it.

Alma was my friend. We met as collaborators over 15 years ago united by our common passion to ensure access to higher education for our most vulnerable students. I was always grateful for the times our work intersected. We would work long hours together, rising frequently for 4am call times to promote financial aid and Cal Grant awareness, or lobby in Sacramento or Washington DC, and thankfully, often ending late into the night with a soul-filling Happy Hour and lots of good laughter.

She was an amazing advocate, a consummate professional, a beautiful friend, and a loving mother to Noah and partner to Eugene. My heart breaks for her family, but her memory is indeed our blessing, and her friendship was a gift. As Governor Newsom said, “We hold her partner Gene and son Noah in our hearts as we continue her legacy of expanding opportunity for all.”

If you would like to join me in contributing to Alma’s legacy by helping more students go to college, you can send a check to UNITE-LA with “Alma Salazar Scholarship” in the memo to 1055 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 1750, Los Angeles, CA 90017.

To donate directly to her six-year-old son Noah’s Fidelity 529 college savings account, please click here. Please note, the Fidelity account only accepts e-check donations (requires bank/routing information), no debit/credit card accepted.

Thank you for gracing my life with your presence dear friend. You will never be forgotten.

Michele Siqueiros
Michele Siqueiros, President

Rage Against the Machine Learning

I have several things on my radar this week that I want to share.

The Campaign released a brief on Expanding Federal Work-Study Opportunities for California Community College Students. A few highlights:

  1. Of the 2.1 or so million community colleges students in California, only around 10,500 are receiving Federal Work-Study (FWS) dollars.
  2. 70 percent of FWS recipients are under the age of 30.
  3. Two-thirds of FWS recipients are women.

The Federal Work-Study program is not well-suited to community colleges. There are matching fund requirements, and the distribution formula prioritizes institutions with records of past participation (a bias towards older institutions and Northeastern US colleges and universities), and high-cost schools as judged by FAFSA’s unmet need calculation. Low FAFSA completion rates limit the number of students who might receive an award, and the formula itself has a bias that hurts community colleges. The brief also has some best practices and strategies from Pasadena City College and Long Beach City College, as well as recommendations for policymakers and practitioners. Check it out!

The National Student Clearinghouse Monthly COVID update caught my eye this week. The data has some things that surprise me and some things that do not. Associate’s enrollment was down in the summer, as was enrollment in sub-bac certificates. Black student enrollment took the biggest hit, but Latinx student enrollment was up slightly. The link here is to the NSC’s Tableau dashboard. It’s pretty easy to fiddle around with to see comparisons by race, gender, age, enrollment intensity, and a few other things. I do not think it filters to state levels.

Anthony Carnevale has a piece in Medium that I would highly recommend. He takes a long lens on discriminatory public policy in the United States and discusses the ways in which educational opportunities are part of a larger patchwork of racist public policy. The essay traces issues from slavery, to Jim Crow, to New Deal legislation that excluded Black workers from participating in the welfare state, to redlining, discriminatory mortgage practices, and underinvestment in urban schools. It all culminates in a system that is outrageously unequal. This is a heftier piece, but I urge you to find the time to read it.

One way we might expand access to the baccalaureate degree is through community college programs. In areas that are a little too remote from a public four-year, these have a pretty cool potential upside of allowing access to higher education. Traditional opposition has focused on the potential impact on four-year institutions. A recent study in the American Educational Research Journal looked at community college baccalaureate (CCB) programs to address exactly these questions. These authors found that “local CCB degree programs have a negative effect on overall bachelor’s degree enrollment and bachelor’s degree production at 4-year institutions, but this effect is concentrated primarily within for-profit 4-year institutions.” Pretty cool, right?

Also on the access to four-year degrees front, the folks at PPIC have a report out that highlights the need for additional capacity at the CSU system. They make a number of important points. Among them: the number of eligible applicants who are being denied admission has quadrupled since the great recession; all but two campuses face space constraints under normal operating circumstances; expanding student enrollment requires expanding the faculty ranks; and, even with the additional focus placed on distance education with the pandemic, significant investments in course design and delivery are still required to make sure online course delivery is as effective as it needs to be.

Moving on from four-year degrees, this working paper examines the costs and burdens of FAFSA verification on public institutions. Not surprisingly, these costs are disproportionately born by community colleges and the diverse population they serve – Pell-eligible students are much more likely to undergo verification than their wealthier peers. Verification costs total roughly a half-billion dollars per year. At community colleges, financial aid offices are spending as much as 22% of their budgets on this. At public four-years, it is more like 15%, which is still too high. Furthermore, the verification process results in very few changes to financial aid. I tend to put FAFSA fraud in the same category as voter fraud: it’s a straw man created to keep minorities out. Just think of the ways we could be better purposing those resources…

Financial aid and the cost of college are among several challenges faced by students. A new report from Unidos examines the challenges and opportunities faced by Latinx students pursuing higher education. The authors discuss the influence of first-generation status and financial and basic-needs insecurity, as well as students’ genuine drive to succeed and the importance of robust supports. The authors also include policy recommendations that will help ensure more Latinx students are able to not just enroll, but to succeed in their studies.

I really liked this study, both for the fact that it is a randomized control trial, and for the actual content. The authors test out a fairly low-budget intervention that is designed to help increase students’ sense of belonging at a broad-access four-year institution. Students in the treatment group read stories written by upperclassmen about times they felt they didn’t belong, then responded to a writing exercise to help them understand that it is completely normal to question your sense of belonging. Control-group students did a similar reading/writing exercise, but they did not focus on themes of belonging. According to the authors, “The intervention increased the likelihood that racial-ethnic minority and first-generation students maintained continuous enrollment over the next two academic years relative to multiple control groups. This two-year gain in persistence was mediated by greater feelings of social and academic fit one-year post-intervention.”

This last one is a little different, but it is really important to think about in our work. The study looks at the algorithms used by big job-search websites to identify candidates for interviews. I flag this because it is very closely connected to the concept of university admissions and the algorithms used by admissions departments. I will circle back to this below after a brief set up. Stick with me because I think you will enjoy the payoff. (Also, I will acknowledge that I first started learning about algorithms like the ones in this study when I was working at the Community College Research Center with Peter Bergman – a coauthor of this paper. Also, the paper uses the term “upper confidence bound contextual bandit approach”…gotta love the jargon!)

The authors talk about algorithms that employ “supervised machine learning” approaches. These algorithms use data from prior hiring to learn which candidates have a high likelihood of a successful interview. Essentially, everybody gets an estimated score based on the inputs that are chosen for the model, and the highest scores get selected to be interviewed. These estimates, however, also have a confidence range – the model knows there is uncertainty. The confidence ranges will tend to be larger for under-represented groups – there is less data for these groups, so the algorithm is less certain and gives a bigger range. If we just let this thing run, it will produce results that look a lot like prior results, baking in any prior inequities (Still with me? Good. This is where it gets interesting!)

I promised I would bring this back to admissions. Too many capable URM students are excluded from top-tier institutions because we have a system built to reproduce yesterday’s inequities. There are ways to build algorithms that will yield student bodies that are highly likely to succeed and that reflect the diversity of the state’s population. More broadly, I would like to see universities exploring and looking for students who would benefit from the education they provide, not students who will be fine regardless. That’s a conversation for another time.

Stay cool!

Vikash Reddy

 

 

 
Vikash Reddy, Senior Director of Policy Research


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