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Completing community college in L.A. County still a challenge

More than 70% of students fail to get a degree or transfer to four-year universities within six years, says a new report, adding that most of those students drop out.

May 18, 2011|By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times
  • People attend the grand opening celebration of the Culinary Arts Institute at the Los Angeles Mission College in Sylmar.
People attend the grand opening celebration of the Culinary Arts Institute… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

Completing community college remains a challenge for students in Los Angeles County, with more than 70% failing to attain a degree or transfer to four-year universities within six years, according to a report released Tuesday.

Most of those students end up dropping out, the findings show. The study is a supplement to a statewide report issued in October by the Campaign for College Opportunity and the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Cal State Sacramento.

"We are very much on track to producing a generation of young people less educated than we are," said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for College Opportunity. "In California, with its growing diversity and needs of the workforce, what's at stake is the quality of life for all of us."

The study tracked more than 60,000 degree-seeking students who entered a community college in Los Angeles County during 2003-04 and analyzed their progress over six years.

Among other findings:

•23% of black students and 20% of Latino students completed a degree or certificate or transferred after six years, compared to 39% of whites and 36% of Asian-Pacific Islanders.

•44% of students completed the two years of credits required to transfer to a four-year university and only 27% completed the credits needed for an associate's degree.

•The county's overall completion or transfer rate of 29% was slightly lower than the statewide average of 31%.

Community colleges face special challenges because they have no admission criteria and accept a diverse population of young and old, many of whom may show promise but lack preparation for college-level study, said Francisco Arce, vice president of academic affairs at El Camino College in Torrance.

Reductions in state funding have also hampered student success. El Camino had to cut 1,250 classes over the last two years, Arce said. But his campus recently won a $3.25-million, five-year federal grant to improve graduation rates.

"The most important thing we're trying to impress on students is to … get an assessment so they know where they place in terms of reading, writing and math, to go through the college orientation process and to meet with a counselor to develop an educational plan," Arce said. "Students who follow these steps are going to have much higher probability of success."

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