Blog Archives - The Campaign for College Opportunity

Letter from Washington

My name is Isa Sheikh, and this summer, I’m serving as the federal policy fellow with the Campaign for College Opportunity in the newly opened Washington, DC office. In other seasons, you can find me on Notre Dame’s campus in Indiana as a reporter and editor, research assistant and a student of history, political science, journalism and Asian studies.

I’m super excited to spend the next few months in our nation’s capital working to advance a federal conversation and agenda to address the transfer policies needed to improve student success.

As I walked past the White House on my first day at work with the Campaign, I absentmindedly stepped into a shockingly deep puddle from the previous day’s thunderstorms, miraculously not soaking my socks. Perhaps it was my first-day-of-school jitters, or the surrealism at being so close to this landmark I’d seen in movies and TV my entire life.

Contributing to my overall excitement was my enthusiasm at working with the Campaign for College Opportunity this summer. Though I just wrapped up my first year of college, I had first heard about the  organization’s work during high school. As a high school freshman in Sacramento public schools, I enrolled at Sacramento City College (SCC) as a dual enrollment student and began taking classes.

Not only did I have the opportunity to study American Sign Language, history, writing, theatre, economics, early childhood education and other subjects at SCC, I got to sit in classrooms alongside the incredibly diverse cross-section of California, including retired librarians and busy parents returning to school, as well as students a few years out of high school. Far too many of these students stalled in their aspirations to transfer.

In high school, I had the great pleasure of serving as Student Board Member for the Sacramento City Unified School District, representing more than 40,000 public school students and their interests amid the pandemic, and many other challenges. There are different, but related, obstacles in systems of higher education across this country, and I’m looking forward to researching and moving the conversation about students who do not receive the degrees that they seek.

Many of those students in Sacramento go through their K-12 education as the victims of a system that does not put their needs first and does not expose many of them to higher education options through counseling, or programs like the “Panther Pipeline” that led me to Sacramento City College.

There’s something magical about access to public higher education, and a clear pathway to a timely degree. As many of the Campaign’s reports indicate, there is still work ahead to achieve that fully. I saw this personally when my mother enrolled at Cosumnes River College (CRC) with the intentions of finally achieving her degree having left San Francisco State decades prior due to a family situation. Navigating the mess of collating credits from previous courses taken over the years at City College of San Francisco, she began to hit her stride at CRC, even winning a scholarship award.

My parents both immigrated to this country from India and worked incredibly hard throughout my entire childhood. It was always understood that education was our ladder up. Long nights when my dad was out driving taxis to put food on our table came with the implicit contract that our own futures would look different thanks to the attainment of a degree. My mom took me to campuses near us like Berkeley and Stanford so that I could see the opportunities I would one day pursue.

By the time my senior year rolled around, I was determined that I would complete an associate’s degree for transfer (completing my general education with the IGETC breadth), and apply for transfer to a University of California school. When graduation rolled around, I was only a few courses away from receiving that degree but fate had an alternative plan for me and I ended up leaving for Notre Dame. I would learn so many in my classes at Sacramento City College did not advance to the 4-year degree program that they entered college seeking, and within the few who did, most did not advance in two years.

The lessons I learned in my years at Sacramento City College stuck with me, even if I didn’t graduate there. My very first class, a one-unit Human/Career Development class called “Orientation to College” taught me critical information about the programs and systems in place in California. It showed me how to study the unit requirements for transfer, the differences between the CSU and UC systems, goal-setting and how to interact with key documents like the course catalog and different transfer paths. That class truly prepared me for college.

Unfortunately, that information is something most California community college students, and certainly most community college students across the country do not often receive. That’s just one of many obstacles in the transfer maze, and I’m excited to work on developing the conversation about how to fix these barriers on the federal level.

I later would find the entire framework I navigated as I sought an associate’s degree for transfer was created by Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2010 approval of SB 1440 (Padilla), a policy that made the path to transfer far clearer for hundreds of thousands of students like me. That work, co-sponsored by the Campaign, is an inspiration today as we look to making the transfer process easier for students nationwide.

This summer, upon finishing my first year of college, I’ve had the chance to think about the many opportunities and challenges that have defined my journey. My path to higher education was both inevitable and an anomaly and there are so many fortunate incidents that allowed me to receive the information and guidance I needed. Students across this country seeking a degree from the transfer process can’t afford to rely on luck to cut through the cacophony of conflicting and muddy bureaucratic waters so many institutions still offer.

Here’s to national transfer reform, surviving DC weather and (mostly) dry socks. Here’s to the classmates in my early morning Sac City classes who had the audacity to dream of a degree. Here’s to the promise of accessible education and economic mobility my parents saw in this country. That’s why I do what I do.


Gary Hart: Teacher, Mentor, & Friend

Adapted from remarks given by Executive Vice President Jessie Ryan at Gary Hart’s Celebration of Life, May 7th, 2022 at Kennedy High School

When I learned that my dear friend and mentor, Gary Hart, had requested I deliver remarks at his Celebration of Life, I was incredibly honored and then terrified because how does anyone adequately capture the essence of a giant like Gary Hart?  In the past, when faced with such a challenge, I would inevitably consult with Gary who would ask some probing questions, meticulously comb through my drafts (writing many thoughtful notes in the margins).  He would remind me that time was a commodity and to use it wisely, question my word choices, and caution me against exaggeration, “Jessie, please avoid excessive language.”

Those of you who have benefited from Gary’s exacting edits know what I am talking about and – though difficult – I will do my best to channel his feedback.

A teacher by trade, including in the halls of John F. Kennedy High School, Gary’s thoughtful reflections always made things better.  Though quite different, we were kindred spirits. We bonded over a belief in the transformative power of education and the importance of courageous, ethical leadership.

Growing-up poor and unnetworked in Sacramento, in my late twenties Gary graciously took me under his wing, opened doors, and imparted lesson after critical lesson. He taught me that:

1) Nothing worth doing was without opposition.

2) That the surest way to lose was to lose focus.

3) That I should not compromise my character or principles in the pursuit of politics.

And so much more…

I did not know it at the time, but he was preparing me to lead. Frankly, he was also ruining my standards for all politicians because between Gary’s golden example and a friendship he helped facilitate with then Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, my bar became impossibly high (I mean superhuman really).

Over the years I watched Gary devote the same energy and generosity with his time to countless other young people. He could command a room of high school students at the Capitol artfully, asking them thought provoking questions and sparking their interests. He would guest lecture and teach in low-income schools often convincing those in his network to share their experiences with PACE and CIVITAS students too. As a teacher he was completely in his element; smart, sincere, and enthusiastic which his students would come to respect and respond to.

Gary encouraged them to dream of systems change and become civically engaged. He was an equity champion and feminist ally before his time and together we would devise ways to help students find and harness their power and passions.

One such project brought Gary to the heart of Oak Park in Sacramento where for a semester Gary taught continuation school students– in our historically Black neighborhood — how to become philanthropists. At first, I think many of the students did not know what to make of the 6-foot 4-inch, older white man but over the course of several months they learned to use their lived experiences to assess community needs, solicit donations and then determine funding priorities. As the students made gifts totaling $10,000 to nonprofits they believed would support Oak Park residents, they said they felt important. They learned that they could take action to change the conditions for themselves and others.

Gary was always looking to inspire, motivate and support students to be part of societal change.


Executive Vice President Jessie Ryan, Gary K. Hart, and President Michele Siqueiros at the opening of our Sacramento Office


He was also a firm believer that low-income students deserved access to history, music, and arts just like their more resourced peers. He proudly joined students for a screening of Hamilton in San Francisco. He took students to watch the Opera in Sacramento, and when he saw a documentary about the remarkable life of Latina Rock Star Linda Ronstadt (who he had met and admired), he secured the rights to the film and screened it for free with Sac City students and families across the district as part of Women’s History Month (sitting in the audience unassumingly).

There were many ways a man of Gary’s import could choose to spend his precious time but this former State Senator chose to pour into young people and without fanfare or headlines.  This was simply what he loved to do.

I will never forget calling Gary after a recent hospitalization, expecting he would need some cheering up. I was wrong.  It turns out he was delighted to find out that one of his former students was his nurse, recognized him right away, devotedly attended to him, and shared how much Senator Hart the teacher had meant to her as a struggling teen.  But of course, after a lifetime of teaching this happened frequently to Gary. He attracted good people because he was among the very best of men.

When I asked Gary, towards the end of his life, about his proudest accomplishment, achievement, legacy he choked up a little sharing that it was his intelligent daughters (Elissa, Laura, and Katherine), his extraordinary wife (Cary), his staff that said, “they never had to be ashamed of Gary Hart”,  his deep friendships (an impressive collection, many in this room today), and the students he taught to reach for the best versions of themselves.

My friend and mentor, the man who became the closest thing to a father I have ever known, also taught me a final profound life lesson.

He taught me that our legacy is not so much about WHAT we achieve, it is about WHO we choose to love and invest our time in as well as the people who choose to do the same for us.

It has been said your legacy should be measured by how many hearts you have touched and the generations you have prepared for the work ahead. Gary Hart’s legacy is a great one indeed and what a blessing this wickedly smart, incredibly compassionate, lifelong educator is to each of us fortunate enough to call him our father, husband, teacher, mentor, and friend.


Remembering Gary Hart

Gary celebrating our 10th Anniversary with us in Sacramento

 Gary, former Senate Pro Tem Leader and current Mayor of Sacramento, Darrell Steinberg, and Jessie at our 10th Anniversary event

Women in Higher Education: The Power of Policy

President of The Campaign for College Opportunity, a California organization engaged in supporting common sense reforms to the state’s higher education system, Michele Siqueiros is determined to see more students complete their college educations. The first in her family to graduate college, she works to expand access and student success by bringing attention to the challenges facing students of color, low-income students and first-generation students.

In March, the Campaign for College Opportunity was integral in the introduction of Assembly Bill 928, the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act of 2021, which proposes to make the transfer process from two-year to four-year institutions clear by creating consistent and readily understandable pathways.

“Students everywhere deserve a clear path to transfer,” says Siqueiros. “Most students who start at a community college want to transfer to a four-year university, and they shouldn’t need an advanced degree to get to transfer. That’s how complicated transfer continues to be.”

“It’s unnecessary for us to have these hurdles in place that don’t make the process work for students,” she adds. “If we want to ensure access to college, if we want to improve practice in terms of pushing for the reforms [that] we believe are necessary and if we want to truly close the racial equity gaps that persist in higher ed, we will need to work at [policy reform] for the long haul.”

Mobilization and Implementation
There are 116 community colleges in the state of California. A decade ago, the Campaign for College Opportunity played a vital role in the passage and implementation of the Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT), which guarantees priority admission to a California State University (CSU) institution for community college students who meet a minimum eligibility requirement. It streamlines the process so that students don’t take unnecessary credits. As of October 2020, the more than 280,000 students that have earned an ADT accrued six fewer credit units on average, leading to millions of dollars in savings in the 2018–2019 academic year alone.

In getting the ADT passed, the Campaign for College Opportunity mobilized a broad base of support among civil rights, education and business leaders to endorse the legislation, as well as student groups throughout California. the Campaign for College Opportunity has monitored implementation through research and analysis. Siqueiros notes how crucial data analysis is, pushing for the disaggregation of data, highlighting inequities and showing how some policies exacerbate inequities.

Despite the proven success of ADT, transfer rates from two-year to four-year institutions remain low. That is why the Campaign is advocating for AB 928, which would make the CSU and University of California (UC) systems work together to develop a singular general education transfer pathway.

“To ensure that there’s improvement and strengthening of transfer in California, including calling for an intersegmental implementation committee that would be composed of our community colleges, Cal State and UC leaders,” says Siqueiros.

The Campaign for College Opportunity’s Purpose
To support the policies and practices for which the Campaign advocates, they frequently engage the media, including writing op/eds. Siqueiros shares her own story. Having mentors who believed in her ability to go to college and guided her through the process proved integral to her success.

Teachers and college students visiting her high school helped her understand how to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and apply to college. Siqueiros received federally subsidized loans and grants.

“Also, the support at my college (Pitzer College CA) once I enrolled as a first-gen student…allowed me to see myself as being able to complete really rigorous work,” says Siqueiros.

She witnessed others of her generation not getting the information or needed support, and that continues. “We hear from students all the time that they don’t believe they can go, or they don’t even know there’s financial aid available,” Siqueiros says. “The pandemic has further exacerbated this.”

Siqueiros was the second hire after the Campaign’s founding, joining as associate director in 2004. Prior to that she worked for the City of Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, helped co-found Public Allies- Los Angeles and worked for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. She became president in 2008. Under her presidency, the Campaign has advocated for increased access to Pell grants, protected Cal grant funding and supported undocumented students, in addition to reforming community college pathways.

Propelling College Success
“We want students to be persistent and work hard, but we should also ensure that the systems are doing the same thing,” says Siqueiros. “I’m involved in advocacy because I’m really passionate about this issue. I feel in many ways that I was very lucky. We shouldn’t have to rely on luck.”

A lot of the policies and practices do not serve the best interest of students, she says. The remedial course failure rate is high, and it frustrates Siqueiros that institutions accept that and don’t question the effectiveness.

“By eliminating remedial ed courses in community colleges, we’re seeing huge positive effects, especially for Black and Latinx students,” says Siqueiros, noting 50% to 70% pass rates of college-level math and English by students who would have been put in these remedial courses.

Siqueiros notes that racial equity is a big issue, citing inequality in college preparation, attendance and success. Although her focus is on California, she is certainly pleased if her policy work has national impact.

“We know those challenges are not unique to our state,” she says. “We hope as we advance and champion some of these reforms to see them expanded across other states. We’re also always in learning mode. We’re very interested in what other states are doing that we should be thinking about doing in California.”

“The future of our state will depend on our ability to ensure that we close those gaps that persist in our education system,” she continues. “We will continue to persist on implementation of reforms so that the vision and dream that we have of creating a clear transfer path for students and eliminating unnecessary obstacles like remedial education course requirements—that we see those through to fruition.” Download the article

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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