Community college bachelor’s degree programs could play a major role in closing the higher education gap for Latino students, according to a report released Tuesday by UCLA.
Since 2014, only a handful of California community colleges have been allowed to offer two-year bachelor’s degree programs. For Latinos who were able to complete the program, the degree can be life-changing in terms of academic success and financial stability, according to the new study from the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute.
The UCLA institute looked at data from students enrolled in the first five cohorts, or groups, of California’s inaugural community college baccalaureate programs, or CCBs, and surveyed graduates to study some postgraduate outcomes.
Approximately 64% of all Latino students enrolled in CCB programs graduated within two years of enrollment, a figure similar to the 68% of non-Latino students who graduated. The report also found that fewer Latino CCB graduates had to take out student loans to finance their education, 35 percent, compared to 46 percent of all California college graduates.
Baccalaureate degrees from community colleges have also led to better financial outcomes. Latino CCB graduates reported earning on average more than $22,600 more per year than before the program. They also had higher employment rates than non-Latino CCB graduates.
In California, 22% of Hispanic adults (25 and older) had earned an associate’s degree or higher, compared to 56% of non-Hispanic white adults, according to Excelencia in Education, an organization that analyzes strategies to boost completion Latin American university studies.
CCB programs also meet industry and workforce needs: some are in the areas of dental hygiene, respiratory care, automotive technology and biomanufacturing.
The report’s first author, Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, a faculty member at UCLA’s School of Education & Information Studies, said in an interview that CCB programs are particularly valuable because of their accessibility in terms of location , cost and connections to certain fields and industries. .
“You don’t have to move, you don’t have to give up your current job and you don’t have to give up who you are,” Rios-Aguilar said. “Your lived experiences will remain and you will still be able to obtain a bachelor’s degree under these conditions. »
Rios-Aguilar added that community college bachelor’s degree programs make returning to school easier for students from nontraditional educational backgrounds.
“It very tangibly opens doors for Latino communities and Latino students from different parts of California to persevere, complete their degrees and find employment,” Rios-Aguilar said. “We’ve noticed that CCBs are serving more nontraditional students, again, because of the value proposition. »
Susan Mendoza, 37, is a licensed dental hygienist who graduated from a two-year bachelor’s degree program at West Los Angeles College, a community college in Culver City.
Mendoza grew up with a single mother who worked two jobs and with two grandparents. She said that when she accompanied her grandparents to their dentist visits, she saw that there was a significant gap in dentistry when it came to Latinos.
“It was difficult to communicate their needs, their insurance benefits,” Mendoza said, as well as the need for what the dental staff was recommending.
That’s what motivated her to become a dental hygienist, she said.
Mendoza took prerequisite classes at a night school while she worked the day at a dental office and was admitted to the two-year bachelor’s degree program. She said the program’s location and affordability were the main reasons she was able to access the degree program, which was necessary for her educational and career goals.
The WLAC program provided a unique opportunity to help members of the Latino community access dental services, Mendoza said. She described a field trip in which she and other Latino dental hygiene students went to provide care at dental clinics in Montebello and Simi Valley, where patients spoke only Spanish.
Mendoza described her experience with WLAC’s bachelor’s program as nothing short of “life-changing,” and after graduating in December, she is focusing on treating patients in underserved areas.
The opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in two years is particularly important given the number of Latinos attending community college: In California, approximately 640,000 Latino students were enrolled in community colleges in fall 2022, more than double the number registered in the State of California. California’s college and university systems combined (about 285,000 students), according to the report.
Promising — but still too inaccessible
The problem is that despite the immense boost they can provide to Latino and other students, CCBs are still largely inaccessible. California, with 31 approved CCB programs, is one of 23 states to have authorized at least one community college to offer bachelor’s degree programs.
The data also revealed that there are still gaps in Latino enrollment in these two-year bachelor’s degree programs: Of the 1,486 students enrolled in the first five groups studied, about 30 percent were Latino, although the share overall Latino student population at these 15 community colleges. was 46% at that time.
“We need a new marketing campaign and an awareness campaign to reach these Latino communities and the general public,” Rios-Aguilar said. “What we really want to work on is making our research actionable and translatable. »
To learn more about NBC Latino, Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.