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Health Professions: Associate Degrees for Transfer in Health Majors at the Community Colleges and California State University System

The need for health professionals across the nation and in California is on the rise, and demand for health professionals is projected to rise considerably in the near future. In 2019, California was short 240,000 nurses, and that was before COVID-19 put our healthcare system under greater strain than it has ever seen. Without bold action, the demand for health professionals and healthcare workers will not be met.

Moreover, there is a disproportionate need for diverse health professionals, especially for health professionals from racially and ethnically minoritized communities in California. Today Latinx Californians account for 39.4% of the state’s population, but just 5% of our healthcare professionals are Latinx. A more diverse workforce would better represent the state’s patient population and improve healthcare quality, access, and patient care. For example, one study showed the mortality rate for Black infants was cut in half when they were cared for by Black doctors during initial hospital stays.

The California Community Colleges (CCC) are ground zero when it comes to training the next generation of health professionals and supporting students to transfer to universities for bachelor’s and advanced health degrees. Over the past 5 years, the CCC has awarded 57,333 health associate degrees and 7,555 of them have been Associate Degrees for Transfer (ADTs), a transfer pathway which guarantees admission to the California State University system. In 2019-20 alone, the CCC awarded 12,796 total associate degrees in health, 2,194 of which were ADTs.

The Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) is one of the best tools California has to address the high demand for diverse health care professionals. The transfer process in California remains elusive for far too many students, but the ADT – with its streamlined pathway and guarantee of admission with automatic junior standing to the California State University (CSU) system – can fast track students toward a bachelor’s degree in health fields.

Community Colleges: ADT Earners who Majored in Health

Students pursuing health professions at the California Community Colleges have three options for an ADT award: Nutrition and Dietetics, Public Health Science, and Kinesiology. In 2018-19, Clovis Community College (in Fresno, CA), Columbia College (in Sonora, CA), and Cabrillo Community College (in Santa Cruz, CA) awarded the highest number of health Associate Degrees for Transfer per full-time equivalent students (FTEs).

1,854 students earned an ADT in a health field from the CCC system in the 2018-19 academic year. To put this number in perspective, the CCC awarded 58,811 Associate Degree for Transfer awards in 2018-19 and 3.15% were in a health major. In the 2019-20 academic year, this number was 3.17% (2,114/66,649). From 2017-18 to 2018-19, the number of ADTs in health grew by 384 awards. The latest numbers suggest that out of all Associate Degrees in the Arts (AA) and Associate Degrees in the Sciences (AS) awarded, about 26% of them were in health majors.

The top three community colleges that are performing above and beyond are Clovis Community College, Columbia College, and Cabrillo Community College. These colleges award the highest number of health ADTs per full-time equivalent students (FTEs). These colleges are leading the way for students interested in health and in transferring to a college/university.

Another way to measure success is by tracking improvement over time. The community colleges with the most growth in health Associate Degrees for Transfer (from 2017-18 to 2018-19) are College of the Canyons, Fresno City College, and Long Beach City College (see Table 1).

It is important to note that in 2018-19, only 37 community colleges accounted for over 70% of the Health Associate Degree for Transfer awards. Some campuses may be struggling to institutionally support students interested in health and in transferring to the CSU system.

Ninety-eight California Community Colleges offer Kinesiology ADTs, 26 California community colleges offer Public Health Science ADTs, and 45 California community colleges offer Nutrition and Dietetics ADTs.

CSU Health ADTs

Another way to gain insights about the transfer pathways of students interested in health is to look at transfer students in the CSU system. In the Fall of 2019, 3,318 incoming transfer students had a health major (compared with 3,070 in Fall 2018). CSUs with the highest number of health major transfers in the Fall of 2019 were Northridge, Fullerton, and San Diego State.

Associate Degree for Transfer earners represent a small share of transfer students who enter the CSU system. For instance, 44 of the 426 (10.33%) incoming transfer students in health majors had earned an Associate Degree for Transfer at CSU Northridge in the Fall of 2019. This number is 23 of 333 at CSU Fullerton (6.91%). Table 2 shows these numbers for each CSU in 2018 and 2019.

Most CSU transfer students with a health major do not have an Associate Degree for Transfer, likely because there are only three available ADTs in the health professions compared to a number of majors at the CSU for which the ADTs do not align. Much work can be done to expand the number of ADTs in the health professions at the community college level while urging the CSU to match the current ADTs to the widest possible array of existing CSU majors in the health professions.

Figure 1 shows the breakdown of transfer pathways in CSU Fall 2019 incoming transfers. This figure shows data for the top 10 majors and the percent of incoming students who earned an ADT, an AA/AS, or no degree before transferring. Notably, health professions and related programs had the lowest percent of students with an ADT (with a guarantee) and an ADT (without a guarantee). Among the 23 CSUs, 21 have a kinesiology major, 14 have a nutrition major, 16 have a public health or related major, and 19 have a nursing major. Clearly, more can be done to strengthen transfer pathways in one of the most in-demand fields.

California has a high and urgent need for health professionals from diverse backgrounds. Community colleges represent an accessible and affordable entryway into higher education for low-income students from racial/ethnic minority backgrounds who are interested in health careers. The California State University system awarded 7,871 bachelor’s degrees in health professions in the 2019-2020 academic year. In the past five years, the CSU has awarded 38,791 bachelor’s degrees in the health professions. The California Community College and California State University have been leading way in training health professionals in California. Strengthening transfer pathways, especially the Associate Degree for Transfer pathway by expanding the availability of health ADTs in community colleges, can help California meet the demand for a diverse healthcare workforce.

Josefina's Headshot
Josefina Flores Morales
Research Fellow

AB 928 and Transforming Transfer for California Students

On March 18th, in partnership with the Campaign for College Opportunity, I introduced AB 928, the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act of 2021. This comprehensive student-centered legislation will streamline and improve the transfer process, making it easier for California students to accomplish their goal of earning a bachelor’s degree.

The 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education promised an accessible, affordable, and high quality higher education for California students. The transfer pathway, from community college to four-year institution, is an essential component of the Master Plan’s commitment to access and affordability. The majority of students attend community college with the hope of transferring to complete a bachelor’s degree.

As Chair of the Select Committee on the Master Plan for Higher Education, I have focused on the issue of transfer and convened a conversation centered on the student transfer experience. The message from students was loud and clear: the transfer process is too complex, confusing, and difficult to navigate.

Transfer is often seen as a maze, a journey which ends up costing students more time and money than needed to reach the next step in their higher education journey. At a time of significant financial pressure brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for lower and middle-income students, ensuring that more students can transfer and obtain a bachelor’s degree is a critical piece to California’s recovery. To ensure recovery with equity, AB 928 draws on the state’s commitment to racial equity by supporting underserved student populations who often face unnecessary obstacles on their path to a bachelor’s degree.

Key legislative efforts, such as the Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT), have laid the groundwork for streamlining transfer, supporting thousands of students to transfer in a more timely and cost-saving manner, and guaranteeing admission to the California State University (CSU). In listening to students’ transfer stories and in talking with California’s higher education leaders, the need for continued improvements in transfer became an urgent call to action. Students continue to report confusion with transfer requirements, excess unit accumulation, and inequitable support in accessing the ADT. AB 928 addresses these issues head-on and reimagines the transfer process from the student perspective.

AB 928 would transform the transfer process by:

    1. Creating an Intersegmental Implementation Committee to provide a permanent venue to facilitate intersegmental coordination, greater state-level accountability for ADT implementation, and focus on improving transfer outcomes for all students.
    2. Setting a target date for the CSU and UC to come together and establish a singular lower division general education pathway that meets transfer admission to both. Going from two general education pathways to one makes it easier for students to apply to both CSU and UC and keeps their options open.
    3. Requiring community college students be placed on an ADT pathway, where one exists for their major, which will maximize the probability that a student will transfer and complete a bachelor’s degree in a timely manner. Importantly, students can opt-out and are empowered to choose what is best for them and their educational goals.

The status quo is failing our students. Only 28 percent of students with a transfer goal successfully transfer within six years. This is shocking and unacceptable. Students deserve better, and California can do better. I urge you to join students, higher education leaders, and advocates across the state in this effort to transform transfer.

Join the conversation on Twitter with #TransformingTransfer, or use the toolkit below in support of AB 928.

Download the toolkit

Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-24)
Author of Assembly Bill 928

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.


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.

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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Your Back to School Reading Guide

Back to school is in full swing, so it seems like a pretty good time to burnish your knowledge of California’s higher education landscape!

The Campaign’s Guide to Higher Education was the first thing I read to familiarize myself with this state’s higher education architecture when I first arrived in California, so working on the refresh was actually a lot of fun! This was a collaborative effort, though, and Sara Arce (our Vice President of Policy and Advocacy) deserves the lioness’s share of the credit. Here is our guide to California’s three systems, 149 public colleges/universities, Student Aid Commission, success efforts, and so much more!

Zach Bleemer, who is on the Campaign’s Policy Research Advisory Board, wrote a paper about the impact of Proposition 209. There is also a summary of the paper, a tweet thread from Zach explaining it, an OpEd by Kevin Carey about it in the NY Times, and a tweet thread by Kevin about it… I will let you decide which of those you want to consume and in what order, but I will say a few things. First, the dataset that Zach has is outrageously cool. I could not be more jealous.

More importantly, he finds that Proposition 209 was disastrous for California’s under-represented (URM) populations, and it was not as great for White or Asian Californians as people think. The policy caused dramatic declines in the number of Black and Latinx even applying to the University of California (UC), and enrollments for students who did attend college shifted towards less prestigious public universities or towards private institutions. We see impacts in STEM attainment, and we see impacts on subsequent income and wealth.

This study is kind of a big deal. Also…GIDDY UP FOR THE YES ON PROPOSITION 16 CAMPAIGN.

There has been a ton of great stuff fleeting across my screens of late. Here are some highlights. First, a few briefs I highly recommend. The lengthier reports and articles below are at your discretion, but they are interesting and worth a look.

The briefs:

  • Friends at Excelencia in Education have a new resource out. They have a Latinx degree attainment goal of 6.2 million degrees by 2030. You can bet a solid chunk of those are coming from California. This tool lets you filter by state, then see a handful of indicators relevant to Latinx degree attainment in the given state. Check it out!

On the slightly heftier front:

  • Our partners at Just Equations have a new report on math placement at the CSU and CCCs. Specifically, they look at college websites and find a number of ways that colleges and universities could improve on their messaging. In particular, information is often hard to find, difficult to follow, outdated, and deficit-oriented. They provide a number of suggestions for improvement.
  • The Annenburg Institute released a working paper with a study on performance funding (PF) systems in Tennessee and Ohio. They use a “synthetic control” method to compare outcomes before and after the institution of outcomes-based funding models in those two states. I know less about how to construct these, but the interpretation is pretty straightforward. Basically, we can get an estimate for what we would expect for URM students without the policy, and we can get an estimate for what we would expect of non-URM students absent the policy. Then we can compare those synthetic estimates with the real thing.
    The news isn’t great. In Tennessee, the policy did result in fairly large increases in certificate attainment over what we would have expected without the policy. This is consistent with other research. What the authors find is that this bump was way bigger for non-URM students than for URM students. As such, URM students have lost ground as a share of certificate-holders. In Ohio, the results are not statistically significant, but they do suggest that PF decreased URM certificate attainment and increased non-URM certificate attainment. They find this same trend for associates degrees in both Tennessee and Ohio – decreases for URM, increases for non-URM – though, here too, the results are not statistically significant.

  • And two from the National Bureau of Economic Research that have been sitting on the proverbial stack for a while: First, some really interesting work on the availability of student loans. The authors find that increasing loan limits leads to greater re-enrollment and completion, higher earnings, and, perhaps counter-intuitively, lower default rates. They also indicate that student loan debt doesn’t predict home ownership or other types of debts. The consensus these days is that debt is bad and that student loan debt is out of control. I wouldn’t interpret this as necessarily flying in the face of that. I think we would all agree that student loan debt is better than credit card debt. Also, it’s important to think about the share of debt that is held by high-earners like doctors and lawyers. To me, an important idea is that educational debt isn’t that bad if you finish your degree and enjoy the earnings premium.

    Finally, this one is FASCINATING to me…I have to finish reading it, but I wanted to share it anyways. The authors look at Ohio around the time of the Great Recession. They find that around 10 percent of displaced workers enroll in higher education after losing their jobs. BUT…they also find that much of this enrollment may have happened anyways. When they compare the displaced workers to non-displaced workers who are similar, they find that the job-loss was the causal factor for only about 1% of those who lost their job. We’ve seen millions lose their jobs this year…so even 1% is a lot, but this one definitely challenges my prior assumptions.


Stay safe everyone!

Vikash Reddy



Vikash Reddy, Senior Director of Policy Research

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Michele Siqueiros on “The Years That Matter Most”

August 5, 2020
reposted from the Campaign for Free College Tuition blog

In 2019, when the college admissions scandal, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, came to light, like most Americans I was sick to my stomach. Abuse of privilege, wealth and power is not new. My anger wasn’t just directed at the families and the campus leaders that were engaged in the scandal, it was fueled by a frustration at how the least privileged, wealthy and famous among us, have to overcome a million hurdles in order to get to college, and when we do, we are made to feel as if we don’t belong. In response to that anger, I wrote this earlier post as a tribute to first generation students, me included.

Reading Paul Tough’s The Years That Matter Most reignited some of that same anger and frustration.

For me, college definitely mattered. As a first-generation college graduate, the daughter of an immigrant who only had 6th grade education, earning a BA and MA was my path out of poverty, and just as importantly, my opportunity into a career I love. College mattered so much, that for the past 16 years as the President of the Campaign for College Opportunity, I have fought to expand college access, protect financial aid, and champion the types of reforms that can improve outcomes and close racial/ethnic equity gaps in our community colleges and universities.

My mother worked as a seamstress earning just above minimum wage. She never had health benefits, or paid time off, or any kind of job security. We lived paycheck to paycheck, in a small one-bedroom apartment, where my bed was a pull-out mattress that came out every night and was put away in the morning. We had no safety net to catch us if we fell. I knew I wanted and needed more security than that. I was poor, but I grew up with everything I needed, food on the table, a roof overhead, and a strong powerful role model who loved me and nurtured my love for learning and devouring every book the public library allowed me to check out. Because of my experience I am guilty of embracing the idea that college is an effective panacea for a lot of our social ills and for the kind of social mobility that took me out of that one bedroom apartment and finds me today with a home and a mortgage I can easily afford. The research confirms the benefits of a college education, especially for low-income students.

But Tough’s book also finds that the following truths about college are also playing out in America and they are tougher to bear:

  • College perpetuates the existing inequality in our society by disproportionately serving the most well off;
  • Talented and brilliant low-income students are much less likely to enroll in college or graduate from college compared to mediocre low-performing high-income students;
  • Few low-income students are served by the wealthiest and selective colleges across America; In fact, more than two-thirds of undergraduates at Ivy League and other highly selective colleges are very rich, and fewer than 4 percent of students are poor;
  • The multi-billion dollar test prep industry (SAT/ACT in particular) help rig the system even further in favor of the rich; In Trough’s words, “certifying privilege rather than merit” and providing false signals for who is truly able to succeed or not;
  • Talented first generation and low-income high performing students struggle in college environments that are not welcoming;
  • Black students remain ridiculously underrepresented in higher education, especially Black students who are NOT wealthy, biracial or immigrants; And there appears to be a cap on just how many Black students are accepted into Ivy League colleges (8%);
  • Low-income students who do make it into the Ivy League, mostly come from high performing boarding or private schools; In other words, the Ivy League is hardly taking a chance on students attending regular public schools in America.
  • The business of running colleges makes wealthy tuition paying students a big draw for admissions offices; Imagine the perverse incentives of opening campuses during a global health pandemic. And the flawed U.S. News and World Report’s famous college rankings values the least important things about a college and creates perverse incentives for campuses who want to improve their ranking;

If that list is not depressing enough, recently Americans have been engaging in a discussion around the value of college that has grown more political and polarizing. Tough aptly points out how these discussions serve as a political distraction from better funding higher education, financial aid, and dealing with student debt and that those who attack the value of college the loudest, ironically all have a college degree.

Reading this book could leave you feeling pretty down, especially if like me you are busy championing college opportunity and the social mobility we know can come with it. But I found it as a clarion call to the urgent work that we must continue to fight for: Affirming our efforts to ensure colleges and universities drop the SAT/ACT from college admissions. Affirming our work to ensure more inclusive and diverse faculty, college leadership and academic senate bodies that make critical decisions on admissions, curriculum and create a sense of belonging on our campuses. And reaffirming in our successes to ensure a stronger focus on student centered pathways in and through college that eliminate problematic placement tests, ineffective remedial courses and instead recognize the talent and assets brought to campus by diverse students, and the necessary supports that must be prioritized to ensure they can succeed.

Tough ends the book reflecting on the GI Bill – the first big American investment in college and social mobility post World War II. It is exactly the kind of investment we need today. He reminds us that what we value is at the core of how we support (or do not) higher education, how much we force students to pay and how much debt we tolerate them to absorb. Through higher education we can proclaim that every talented American truly can live the American dream and go to college and exercise their full potential. Or we can continue to exacerbate inequality and leave millions of talented Americans behind simply because they are not White or too poor – and that is the continued Varsity Blues scandal in America.

Michele Siqueiros
Michele Siqueiros, President

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Back to Our [Regularly?] Scheduled Programming…

July 22, 2020

Per usual, a fire hose of content, but there has been some really good stuff that I’ve managed to get through in between my adventures with Lucky (who came home with me three months ago on Sunday!!!).

Vikash and his dog, Lucky

On the COVID-specific front, I would highly recommend these recent pieces:

Rob Kelchen writes about the upcoming fall for higher education in the Chronicle of Higher Education. This one will hit all four of the major sources of higher education revenue – tuition, state funding, auxiliary sources like housing, and endowment returns and gifts. The fall will be rough. We will see layoffs, declarations of fiscal emergencies, and colleges that are not well-positioned to weather this storm may close.

Kevin Carey also looks at the campuses in the middle of the financial pack. Harvard, MIT? They’ll be fine. Carey notes that only about 14% of Cal State students live on campus, while other colleges/systems can derive as much as 30 percent of annual revenue from auxiliary services (see Kelchen’s op-ed above). Both types of institution are in for a tough time, but likely for somewhat different reasons.

This is less about COVID and more about never letting a crisis go to waste. Also in the Chronicle, Anthony Carnevale, Peter Schmidt, and Jeff Strohl take aim at merit aid. The piece discusses ways we fund elitism and the elites at the expense of students and campuses that need resources. They see an opportunity to end “affirmative action for rich white people.” I have heard a lot of folks discuss the ways in which societies dramatically shift in the wake of events like this pandemic. Will we seize the opportunities these authors discuss? I hope so.

On the less COVID-centric front:

Two pieces related to less traditional forms of community college enrollment caught my eye. We think a lot about students who start at community colleges, but what about those who start at four-years and take CC courses along the way? My friends Vivian Liu and Maggie Fay have some cool research out looking at students who enroll in a four-year institution, but who also supplement that enrollment with course-taking at a community college. The find that around 8 percent of students who began at a four-year institution in their data also took community college courses during their educational journey. These “supplementally enrolled” students had higher STEM and total credits earned, higher bachelor’s attainment, and better employment outcomes. Community colleges are pretty awesome.

Elizabeth Meza and Debra Bragg investigated community college baccalaureate (CCB) degree students in Washington. CCB students have slightly higher employment outcomes and initial earnings, but it looks like the traditional BA/BS students catch up and overtake their peers within about three years (given the relative recency of these programs, longer-term effects are tricky to study). They also find gaps by race and gender. If I’m reading their table 5 correctly, the earnings gaps between CCB men and CCB women are FAR larger than the earnings gap among traditional degree-earners. Small sample sizes render analysis by race somewhat difficult, but the authors do document racial differences as well. I’m not sure what’s going on with the healthcare earnings by race – those rows are surprising to me.

On the financial aid/financial well-being front, Kasey Klepfer, Allyson Cornett, Carla Fletcher, and Jeff Webster write up results from a student survey regarding student financial wellness. I don’t know that anybody here will be surprised by any of their findings. Perhaps the magnitude will be larger than we expect, but we see a majority of students worry about how they’ll pay for college and living expenses at the same time. Many students are not sure how they will fund their next semester, and students (particularly at community colleges) need to work to support families. There is a lot in here. It’s worth at least reviewing the executive summary.

The Student Borrower Protection Center released a report about race and student debt. Here too, you already know the upshot: areas with high minority residents are seeing faster growth in student debt, delinquency, and default.

The final piece for today is from the American Enterprise Institute. Jorge Klor de Alva and Cody Christensen examine economic mobility, looking at graduates from four-year institutions who are now in their 20s and 30s (side note, I love it when I’m part of a dataset…). In their executive summary, they note there are a number of schools that “beat the odds,” in that their grads climb the economic ladder more quickly than we would expect given the demographics of their graduates. I’ll admit that I have not had the chance to properly read it, but my questions are largely around how well it compares to other studies of intergenerational mobility (like Chetty et al.). Also, they provide their dataset…I do hope to find some time to look at the California subset, but I don’t know when that’s going to happen.

Stay home and stay safe!

Vikash Reddy



Vikash Reddy, Senior Director of Policy Research

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