Latino students are enrolling at low rates in bachelor’s degree programs at California’s community colleges. But many of those who do enroll are graduating quickly and finding work after leaving college.
That’s the takeaway from a new study by UCLA’s Latino Policy & Politics Institute examining outcomes for Latino students in baccalaureate programs at 15 of the state’s community colleges. An increasing number of community colleges now offer such programs, giving students a simpler path to a four-year degree.
But, in many of the programs, Latino students are not applying or enrolling at high rates. Across the programs, which range from equine and ranch management at Feather River College to dental hygiene at West Los Angeles College, just 30.1% of students are Latino. That’s much lower than the 46% of students at those colleges who are Latino.
To address that gap, the study calls for greater recruitment of Latino students to the programs and for the state to invest more money in the programs.
However, for the students who do enroll, 64% of them finish their degree within two years after starting their upper-division coursework. That’s comparable to non-Latino students, 68% of whom graduate within two years after starting those classes.
Following graduation, the vast majority of Latino students in the bachelor’s degree majors — 94% of them — reported being employed. On average, they earned $22,600 more annually than they did prior to starting the program.
Those outcomes are encouraging, but the colleges could benefit from a “public awareness campaign” to make sure Latino students know about the bachelor’s degree programs available to them, said Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, one of the report’s authors.
“We have this tool now, so let’s make sure people are aware. We’re seeing very promising results once they’re there. But we want to make sure that they get there,” added Rios-Aguilar, who is a professor of education and the associate dean of equity, diversity and inclusion at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.
The bachelor’s degrees are more affordable for students than attending a University of California or California State University campus. Students can finish their degree for just $10,560 in tuition and fees, less than half of what it costs at UC or Cal State. Lower-division classes at the community college are $46 per unit, while the upper-division courses in the bachelor’s degree programs cost the same $46 enrollment fee plus a supplemental $84 fee.
Community college students with financial need can often qualify for state aid to fully cover those costs. That typically includes a California College Promise Grant to cover their lower-division fees and a Cal Grant to cover the $84-per-unit upper-division fees.
The 15 programs examined in the study are California’s original 15 community college bachelor’s degree programs. The state established those programs in 2015 as part of a pilot program.
The state then built on that pilot program with the passage of a 2021 law that allows the community college system to approve up to 30 new bachelor’s degree programs annually. Since the fall of 2022, at least 18 additional programs have been approved, according to the state chancellor’s office.
Not every college included in the study struggled to enroll Latino students in the programs. At two colleges — Antelope Valley and Bakersfield — the share of Latino students in those programs exceeded the overall share of Latino students at the college.
At Bakersfield, which offers a bachelor’s degree in industrial automation, getting those students enrolled starts in high school. Students in the Kern High School District have the option of earning an associate degree in industrial automation while they work toward their high school graduation.
“This innovative collaboration enables these students to seamlessly transfer into our baccalaureate program. Innovations that bring opportunity to students help explain Bakersfield College’s success in successfully recruiting Latinx students to our program,” Norma Rojas, a spokesperson for the college, said in an email.
In addition to that program, Bakersfield also now offers a bachelor’s degree in research laboratory technology.
At another college, MiraCosta, the share of Latino students in the college’s bachelor’s degree program in biomanufacturing was only 0.8% less than the college’s overall share of Latino students.
“In our diverse and vibrant student body, we are proud to observe that the majority of those enrolling in our programs — specifically the bachelor’s degree in biomanufacturing — represent a majority of non-White/Asian backgrounds, showcasing our institution’s appeal across various ethnicities,” Dominique Ingato, MiraCosta’s biotechnology department chair, said in an email.
To ensure that other colleges have similar success, the study released Tuesday suggests that the state should invest more money in the community college bachelor’s degree programs.
That could include spending more on outreach, marketing and recruitment to attract more Latino students. It could also mean investing in “research infrastructure” at the colleges, Rios-Aguilar said. She pointed out that community colleges don’t have the same research capacity as traditional research institutions like UCLA and other four-year colleges.
“It’s important to highlight that community colleges are severely underfunded compared to other sectors of higher education and yet they’re doing these amazing things and these promising tools are emerging,” she added. “Colleges are working really hard to make this happen.”