California community college combats Latino higher education gap

150 150 Nadine Ono

SRJC graduates – empowered and unafraid!

Posted by Santa Rosa Junior College on Tuesday, May 27, 2014

When the Campaign for College Opportunity released its report on Latinos, the headlines in national newspapers were loud and clear: Latinos face a post-secondary education gap.

And because Latinos make up nearly 40 percent of California’s population, this gap has implications for the whole economy. One community college in Santa Rosa has been striving to bridge that gap by building clear pathways into higher education.

The results of the report showed that 38 percent of Latinos do not have a high school diploma as opposed to 18 percent of the general population. As far as higher education goes, 12 percent of Latinos have a bachelor’s degree or higher as opposed to 31 percent of the general population.

The question that faces many educators, elected officials and interested stakeholders such as business owners, parents and students is, “How do we close that gap?” One way could be though career technical education (CTE) programs.

Twenty years ago, many Latino leaders were concerned about students being steered into vocational education (AKA “tracking”), giving a negative stigma to CTE or vocational education. Today, because of changes in technology, CTE can lead to high-skilled, good paying jobs and, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, workers for those jobs will be in high demand in the next decade.

Since the image of CTE jobs has been changing, Ricardo Navarrette, vice president of student services at Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) said there is an now opportunity to link English as a Second Language programs with high-skill career programs: “For Latino students, there was this concept of Vocational English as a Second Language and it’s where you apply your language learning with certain types of Career Technical Education.”

Navarrette is also a member of California Community Colleges Board of Governors Task Force on Workforce, Job Creation and a Strong Economy. This group is tasked with strengthening the regional economic competitiveness by providing California’s workforce with the skills and credentials that meet employer needs.

The Campaign for College Opportunity report made seven recommendations to close the education gap. Some are broad, such as creating a statewide plan for higher education and others are more specific to the Latino community, such as allowing California’s public universities to use race/ethnicity as one of many factors in weighing an applicant’s qualifications for admission. 

One of the report’s recommendations is to ensure that students who test into pre-college courses complete those courses quickly and successfully. This is a not a new concept, as SRJC has implemented a successful pre-college program called “College Skills.” The school has created a separate pre-college department with a dedicated faculty. Traditionally, the pre-college courses are embedded within each subject department (math and English).

“Their whole emphasis is the student who is pre-college and so they’ve tailored a curriculum that is pre-collegiate,” said Navarrette. He added, “Their goal is for the student to complete their pathway and be successful as a student and bridges or transitions into college level work.”

The report also shows that native-born Latinos are twice as likely as non-native Latinos to attend college. Another recommendation is to increase “college knowledge” among middle and high school Latinos.

This is another area where SRJC may be at the forefront as the college provides a High School Equivalency Program (HEP) designed for seasonal agricultural workers and their families, most of whom are Latino. After the student receives a GED, Navarrette said, “the next outcome is that they attain better employment, or that they enter the junior college and then the university.”

Ensuring that nearly 40 percent of the state’s population is educated and career-ready is one key to strong regional economies. Preparing California’s workforce for 21st century jobs is also one of the goals of the California Economic Summit’s Roadmap to Shared Prosperity. And Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity set the stakes when she said, “The future of our economy and the state will rise or fall on the educational success of Latinos.” 


Nadine Ono

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