Raising the Bar on Admissions for Californians is Bad for Our Students and Our State

November 22nd, 2019
2021 Michele Siqueiros 250x250(1)
Michele Siqueiros

Concerned advocates protesting outside of a CSU Board of Trustees meeting

By Michele Siqueiros, President

The California State University (CSU) plays a critical role in ensuring California has the educated citizenry we need to meet workforce demand. By 2030, California needs 60% of adults to have a college degree. That means drastic improvements in degree attainment for Black and Latinx students.

We at the Campaign for College Opportunity have fought alongside the CSU every year during the state budget season to increase the number of spots available for California students, to increase funding of efforts like the Graduation Initiative 2025, and to eliminate remedial education courses. At the local level, we have supported campuses that have worked hard to serve more of the growing eligible students, even as they have financial limits to the number of seats they can offer. But CSU’s recent proposal to add an additional math, science, or other quantitative reasoning course to their eligibility requirements for incoming freshmen threatens college opportunity by making the CSU more selective than ever before, and that threatens to disproportionately affect low income, Latinx, Black, and Native American students who already face unequal preparation and access to college prep courses in high school.

There are several harmful implications of the proposal:

  1. The CSU proposal is an unfunded mandate on K-12 school districts, which already lack the capacity to offer the current A-G curriculum equitably. In fact, this proposal will increase the disparity that already exists in college preparation for our growing diverse student body. The CSU will lose 600 Black students and 5,000 Latinx students yearly.
  2. This proposal by CSU has been pushed for without significant input from public stakeholders, K-12 partners, and the legislature. It also threatens to misalign college readiness requirements from the University of California (UC), meaning that some students could be eligible for the UC and NOT for the CSU.
  3. There is no independent and transparent research that proves this change is necessary, or that is is the only solution to the CSU’s stated problem – to improve college graduation rates. It also puts the onus on K-12 to improve college completion, instead of pushing CSU to expand solutions to support their students.

Students Enrolling in the CSU are More Prepared Than Ever Before

California students don’t just meet the minimum criteria for eligibility – a 2.0 in A-G – they far exceed it. Table 1 shows the average high school GPA of enrolled students at fully impacted campuses. Looking across all 23 campuses, the average high school GPA of enrolling freshmen is near 3.5.

Table 1: Our Students Already Meet High Standards

Moreover, California students already have preparation in quantitative reasoning courses. Forty percent of California high school graduates are currently eligible for the CSU, and these students have already completed at least 5.5 years of quantitative reasoning courses –that’s three years of math, two years of a lab science, and half a semester of economics. And 5.5 years is just the minimum. CSU estimates that incoming students average approximately 21 (20.7) A-G courses of the required 16, meaning these students are very likely taking much more quantitative reasoning prior to attending a CSU. In addition, the CSU’s own data shows that even with greater quantitative reasoning preparation, they are not sufficiently graduating students (Figure 1). This proposal will be yet another example of using math as a filter to keep students out.

Figure 1: CSU Graduation Rates

California Students Don’t Have Equitable Access to A-G courses

Inequities in A-G access exist where our schools are under-resourced, racially stratified, and overwhelmingly low-income.

In 2018, 60% of Black and Latinx were not supported to access and complete the A-G curriculum, making them ineligible for the CSU (Figure 2).

Figure 2: A-G Completion by Race/Ethnicity

San Francisco Bay Area has the highest A-G completion rate, but growing regions like the Central Valley, the Inland Empire, and the North Coast have some of the worst (Figure 3).

Figure 3: A-G Completion by Region

Higher-income students are much more likely to complete the A-G compared to low-income students (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Percent A-G Completion by Socioeconomic Status

We have yet to see evidence from the CSU to substantiate their claim that this proposed change would not have a disparate impact on students seeking access to the CSU. With our colleagues at Just Equations and the Education Trust—West, the Campaign commissioned RTI International, the firm that completed the state’s last eligibility study, to examine how increasing requirements with an additional year of mathematics or science would impact eligibility rates. Using data from the high school graduating class of 2015, these requirements would reduce:

Figure 5: Effects of Change by Race/Ethnicity

Figure 6: Effects of Change by Region

How Can We Move Forward?

Elected officials including Assemblymembers Arambula, Reyes, O’Donnell, Medina and Rivas, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis, and the California Legislative Latino and Black Caucuses have all voiced concern or opposition.

Additionally, over 90 civil rights, community, labor, and student organizations oppose this proposal. That includes the California Teachers Association, the California Faculty Association, the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund, the Los Angeles Urban League, major school districts such as Los Angeles Unified School District and San Francisco Unified School District, ACLU of Southern California, the California State Student Association, and more.

This coalition is gravely concerned about the threats to equity; therefore we ask for the following:

  1. That the CSU Chancellor’s Office and the CSU Trustees pause. There is too much uncertainty and lack of authentic collaboration for this to move forward.
  2. That state leaders recognize that the significant backlash this proposal is receiving is symptomatic of a larger issue facing California: the lack of a coordinating entity for higher education. It is this type of entity—that is both independent of the systems but has the authority to require the systems to align with each other for the benefit of the state—that we need now to review college readiness in relation to our economic demands.
  3. To appoint a task force that can assess college readiness across California and conduct an impact study through independent research to assess these eligibility changes.
  4. That the CSU foster greater K-12 collaboration. K-12 collaboration has been an afterthought, with K-12 only brought in within the last several months for a proposal that has huge implications for the system. That is unacceptable and, once again, irresponsible. CSU shouldn’t kick the can to K-12 to improve their own graduation rates.
  5. That any changes within admissions be rigorously monitored by the legislature. We urge the legislature to set the standard by which CSU reports on its progress of any admissions changes such that the outcomes are transparent and regular, and such that we ensure that there aren’t disparate impacts.

We continue to stand with CSU. There is no question about whether the CSU needs more adequate funding to expand capacity – they do! We are turning away too many eligible students at a time when our economy is demanding a more educated populace.

We stand with CSU in ensuring funding for the Graduation Initiative 2025 and efforts like removing the remedial education barrier – policies that look at how CSU’s own internal policies and practices are hindering student success.

But we stand for students first, and this proposal does not put students first.

This policy proposal does not meet the only bar that matters. It is not good for students, and it is not good for equity in California.