Jamaal Muwwakkil, who grew up in Compton and was the first to go to college in his family, took 10 years to work his way through the community college system in California and then move to UCLA.
"I attended all the community colleges and worked all the jobs," he said during a Tuesday webinar, recounting the courses he took at Cerritos, East L.A., Santa Monica, Coastal and L.A. City Colleges, all while working separate full-time jobs, like at Foot Locker, Disneyland and AT&T.
"It is unfortunate that for first-generation Black college students, my situation is very typical," Muwwakkil said. Muwwakkil failed to feel welcome, uncomfortable with the environment of a major research university, even after gaining admission to UCLA. He is currently a Ph.D. recipient in linguistics and a Student Regent at the University of California. But his performance is far from the norm for California's black students.
A study published on Tuesday by the Coalition for College Opportunity, a non-profit organisation promoting greater access to college, showed that while black students excel at higher rates in higher education than ever, there is a long way to go before they reach equity with their white peers or with targets set by state lawmakers and educational leaders.
Literally, the disparities began in childhood, where black babies have higher death rates than white babies. Black children around California face disproportionate food and housing shortages, inclusion in the structures of foster and juvenile care, and school discipline.
“By the time California’s students arrive at the threshold of college, their inequitable experiences translate into significant disparities in the rates of college readiness and attendance by race/ethnicity, ”the study states.
According to the California Department of Education data referenced in the report, 77% of Black students who started high school in 2016 graduated in 2020, compared to 88% of White students who started at the same time. Out of the entire population of almost 28,000 Black students, less than one in three met the eligibility criteria for entry to either the California State University or the University of California for the "A-G" course, compared to almost half of the white student class.
At California State University and University of California, the Black students who go to college are underrepresented and overrepresented at for-profit private schools, where they are less able to complete degrees and more likely to borrow funds to fund their tuition and default on their loans.
Just 38 percent receive a degree or full transfer criteria within six years at community colleges, attended by the majority of college-going Black Californians, compared to 55 percent of white students. In particular, new changes to raise the percentage of students who complete transfer-level English and math in their first year of college have had significant and encouraging results for black students, which in turn has beneficial consequences for their long-term completion rates.
In the last decade, the four-year graduation rate for black students at California State University has doubled from 10 percent to 20 percent, but the difference between white and black students has risen to 25 percentage points.
According to UC statistics for the 2019 cohort, at the UC, which has the highest college graduation rates among the public higher education systems, a little more than half of Black students graduate in four years relative to three-quarters of White students.
The universities and colleges in California around the board are not helping Black students to graduate at the same pace as their white peers," said Vikash Reddy, senior policy research analyst at the College Opportunity Initiative."
Since Proposition 209 banned affirmative action in public education in 1996, the percentage of black students on UC campuses dropped. In the past two decades, the education system has invested half a billion dollars on attempts to diversify the student body through race-blind programs. With notable gains at UCLA and, more recently, UC Berkeley, the efforts have started to pay off.
And for their Black student performance, several California campuses earned national attention. For example, UC Riverside has been touted by the Education Trust, a non-profit headquartered in Washington D.C., for having one of the nation's smallest racial achievement disparities. In 2020, the six-year graduation rate was 78.1% for black students, 78.4% for whites, 73.7% for Latinos and 81.8% for Asian Americans.
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