Can bachelor’s degree programs at California’s community colleges help close attainment gaps?

Community college baccalaureate (CCB) programs may boost bachelor’s degree completion rates among Latine students, according to a recent policy brief from the Latino Policy and Politics Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. The brief explores the academic and labor market experiences and outcomes of Latine students in CCB programs at 15 of California’s community colleges, using institutional student records and survey data from the first five enrollment cohorts (2016 to 2020).

In 2014, a California law authorized community colleges to offer four-year programs that provide more accessible pathways to career-specific bachelor’s degrees and lead to higher wages and social mobility. In addition, the relative affordability of California’s CCB programs help reduce student debt; 72% of CCB students reported taking on no student loan debt to pay for their education, according to California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. CCB students can earn a bachelor’s degree for $10,560 in tuition and fees, less than half of what it would cost at the University of California or California State University, EdSource reports. 

“It’s opening the doors very concretely to Latino communities and Latino students in different parts of California to access, to persist, and to finish these degrees and get a job,” said Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, one of the report’s authors and a professor of education and the associate dean of equity, diversity, and inclusion at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, NBC News reports. “We’ve noticed that the CCBs are serving more nontraditional students, again, because of the value proposition.”

Related: To boost Latine enrollment, colleges need to meet students’ financial needs >

Programs show promise, but boosting awareness crucial

A new report shows 13% of Latine students who transferred from two- to four-year institutions attain a bachelor’s degree in six years, below the overall average for community college students. In California, 22% of Latine adults (25 and older) held an associate degree or higher, compared to 56% of non-Latine white adults, according to Excelencia in Education. In Fall 2022, more Latine students (640,000) were enrolled in California’s community colleges than across California State University and the University of California systems combined (about 285,000 students), the study says. Yet, Latine students are currently applying and enrolling in CCB programs at lower rates than their peers. While Latine students make up 46% of all students at community colleges with baccalaureate programs, they comprise just 30.1% of all students in CCB programs.

The gap represents an unrealized opportunity, as research shows that CCB programs can lead to better academic and employment outcomes for Latine students. Among Latine students enrolled in CCB programs, 64% completed their bachelor’s degree within two years after beginning upper-division coursework, which “compares favorably” to the non-Latine CCB two-year graduation rate (68%), the study says. 

Latine CCB graduates also report earning $22,600 more than they did when they began their programs, although this is lower than the $27,700 wage gains non-Latine CCB graduates report, indicating existing inequities in economic outcomes. However, a higher share of Latine graduates reported being employed (94%) and finding employment in California (92%) compared to non-Latine graduates (93% and 88%, respectively). 

To boost Latine enrollment, CCB programs need a “public awareness campaign,” Rios-Aguilar, tells EdSource. “We have this tool now…[w]e’re seeing very promising results once they’re there,” she says. “But we want to make sure that they get there.” 

Additionally, the policy brief calls on policymakers and educators to ensure Latine students have better access to CCB programs. California currently has 31 approved CCB programs and is one of just 23 states that have at least one authorized CCB program, according to NBC News. Detailed outcomes tracking, ongoing investment, and program expansion will help further increase the CCB model’s benefits for Latine students, researchers say.

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