The iconic Queen Mary docked in the city of Long Beach (photo: Yan and Yuri)
Long Beach is known for its port, its aquarium, and the permanently docked Queen Mary. But one more thing should be added to that list: it’s a classic example of local governments – in this case schools – working together.
While it may not be as exciting as a floating haunted house, The Long Beach College Promise is paying huge dividends for the students, parents, and business owners of Long Beach. Currently celebrating its 5th anniversary, the Promise is the trailblazing effort by the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), Long Beach Community College (LBCC), and California State, Long Beach to create a clear and guaranteed path for students to attend and graduate from college.
“It comes out of a bigger piece called the Seamless Education Partnership, which formed in the ‘90s” LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser said. “It really was because we were losing tens of thousands of jobs, the whole area was in a massive economic meltdown in the late ‘80s. There was major white flight, major middle class flight. The business community and everyone agreed that in order for the city to thrive, we needed to have a world class education system, and that included all three institutions.”
It was out of the SEP that the Promise was created five years ago, and it’s highlighted by a free semester of tuition at LBCC, guaranteed admission to CSULB, aggressive intervention for underperforming students, and parent outreach. The numbers speak for themselves, and they’re particularly illuminating when considering the entire life of the program has come during the economic downturn.
In 2008, 519 Long Beach Unified students went to Cal State Long Beach. By fall of 2012, that number had increased by 43 percent to 743, something Cal State Long Beach President F. King Alexander says is directly related to the Promise, though not to any one element of it.
“The success isn’t from two or three things,” Alexander said. “It’s about 100 things. All I know is a larger percentage of our freshmen and a larger percentage of our transfer students are coming from Long Beach. This is the fallacy of all this…we have 90,000 kids in this district, more than Cincinnati, Detroit, Cleveland, and Boston. This is a big and complicated school system, and 85 percent of them are Title 1 schools. Nobody can say they’ve got more problems in terms of socioeconomic differences that we do.”
The entire Long Beach community has bought in. “When Prop. 30 passed last year, it passed 54 percent to 46 percent statewide,” Alexander said. “In Long Beach it passed 65 percent to 35 percent, which tells you people here believe we are doing everything we can to work together, and they’re proud of it.”
When it comes down to it, it’s just a matter of cooperation and communication. “The real key is that it’s not rocket science,” Alexander said. “We don’t blame each other, first of all. We just work to find solutions. We talk a lot, the Superintendent, I, and the LBCC president. We’re willing to try all kinds of experiments.”
LBCC Superintendent-President Eloy Oakley points to the it-takes-a-village approach as key to students’ success. “The way we look at students here in Long Beach is the students belong to all of us,” Oakley said. “We feel that they are an economic asset. We want to not only prepare and train them for the workforce, but also keep them locally in the community and the local workforce.”
The process to get students committed to college starts early. “Every fourth grader in Long Beach Unified takes a trip and spends the day at LBCC,” Oakley said. “LB Unified provides the transportation, we coordinate the visit and they spend the day getting familiar with what a community college is, different career fields, and different programs.” The fifth grade sees students doing the same thing, this time at the Cal State.”
And it’s not just about educating students. “They deserve the right to finish college,” Alexander said. “It’s up to the three of us to make sure their parents know everything about going to college before they even get through middle school.”
All three leaders tout the Promise as essentially the best thing for education since pen and paper, and other cities now have the ball in their court. “We didn’t have to go to Sacramento for approval,” Alexander said. “We didn’t have to seek out some higher authority, we just did it. Why are we only doing this here?”
“This can be replicated across the nation,” Steinhauser said. “Everyone can do this. Even if they don’t have the institutions in your backyard, you can do this by regions. Folks can do this f they’re willing.”
And from Oakley, perhaps the most simply and straightforward; “We hope other communities see what we’re doing and use our experience to improve.”
Your move, California school districts.