Journal of Hispanic Higher Education
2015, Vol. 14(2) 151â€“170
Â© The Author(s) 2015
Reprints and permissions:
Raising the Bar for Hispanic
An Analysis of College
Completion and Success
Frances Contreras1 and Gilbert J. Contreras2
Hispanic serving institutions (HSIs) in California have the potential to play a key role in
raising Latino college completion rates. However, while HSIs provide access to higher
education for Latinos, student success, persistence, and completion rates remain
low. This study utilized the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and the
California Community College Data Mart to examine student outcomes at 2-year and
4-year HSIs in California. Among the key findings, the majority of HSIs show lower
college completion rates between Latino students and their peers despite promising
persistence rates and college units earned. The findings suggest that traditional models
of success may be less relevant for Latino students in predicting college success and
4-year degree completion. Finally, this study introduces new approaches for HSIs to
consider in their data collection, reporting, and analytical processes to better serve
Latino students and increase college success and completion.
Instituciones de Servicio a Hispanos (HSIs) han crecido en forma sustantiva a travÃ©s
de los Estados Unidos en los estados con poblaciones latinas con crecimiento rÃ¡pido.
Sin embargo, mientras que HSIs proveen acceso a educaciÃ³n superior para latinos,
muchas fallan en cuanto a Ã©xito estudiantil y tasa de graduaciÃ³n. Este estudio utilizÃ³
IPEDs y el Mercado de Datos de Colegios Comunitarios en California para examinar
resultados de estudiantes en instituciones HSIs de dos y cuatro anos y provee
recomendaciones para subir la barra y servir de manera optima a los estudiantes
1University of California, San Diego, USA
2Cerritos College, CA, USA
Frances Contreras, Department of Education Studies, University of California San Diego, 9500 Gilman
Drive, La Jolla 92093-0070, CA, USA.
Email: [email protected]
572892JHHXXX10.1177/1538192715572892Journal of Hispanic Higher EducationContreras and Contreras
152 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 14(2)
retention, success, transfer, persistence, completion HSIs
Latino students continue to experience low college attainment rates, with bachelorâ€™s
degree attainment remaining largely flat over the past 25 years. The issue for Latino
students is not one of accessâ€”there are plenty of open access institutions throughout
the nation. The central issue and challenge for Latinos is academic success in college
and degree completion. Many of the patterns in the K-12 system, such as underpreparedness or high dropout rates, extend into the postsecondary experience for Latino
college students. As a result, the Latino community remains in danger of becoming an
expansive underclass with limited economic mobility and community sustainability
options. This story, however, is not predetermined and may still be rewritten with concerted effort, investment (personal and institutional), and strategic intervention.
Hispanic serving institutions (HSIs) are a viable avenue for this strategic intervention.
However, not all HSIs consider the concept of â€œHispanic-servingâ€ central to their
institutional identity (Contreras, Malcom, and Bensimon, 2008; Hurtado & Ruiz,
2012). The literature on HSIs frames HSI status as largely accidental or due to state
and regional Chicano/Latino demographic growth. This article addresses this phenomenon, particularly the capacity of HSIs to serve Latino students and the potential that
exists for greater investment in this sector.
The majority of Latino students who transition to college are likely to enroll in community colleges (CCs) or public 4-year institutions that are close to home. Latinos are
fast becoming the largest minority group seeking postsecondary options (Fry & Taylor,
2013b), but beyond accessing college, Latino students are not making sizable strides
in postsecondary attainment. Academic preparation in the P-12 system remains at the
forefront for explaining inequity in college attainment rates. Latinos are not prepared
for college settings. The A-G requirements for college admission, a set of high school
classes that prepare students to be college-ready in California, are very low for Latino
students. In fact, less than a third of all Latino students in 2009 took the appropriate
classes to enroll in 4-year institutions (California Postsecondary Education
Commission, 2014). Latino students are therefore less likely than their peers to be
college-ready as a result of not taking this approved curriculum for college transition.
Another central issue is the fact that Latino students are more likely to enroll in
college as part-time students, which lengthens their time to degree. For example, â€œIn
October 2011 only 78% of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-old college students were enrolled
full time. By comparison, 85% of similar whites were enrolled full timeâ€ (Fry &
Taylor, 2013, p. 8). Whites are also more likely than Latinos to be enrolled in a selective institution (Bozick & Lauff, 2007; Fry & Taylor, 2013) where time-to-degree rates
Contreras and Contreras 153
are lower than nonselective institutions. These data also vary by institutional type. In
California CCs, for example, less than half (46%) of the Latino students were enrolled
in 12 units or greater.
The outcomes for Latinos attending HSIs remain a challenge with Latino students
experiencing high attrition rates and low college completion rates in 2-year and 4-year
HSIs. Raising Latino college transfer and completion rates at HSIs is critical for creating economically sustainable Latino communities. This article utilizes institutional
data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the
California Community Colleges Management Information System (MIS; Data Mart)
to conduct an exploratory analysis assessing Latino student outcomes at HSIs by sector in California. Findings from this research will contribute to the literature on HSIs
and Latino students.
If the states of California and Texas, which possess a substantial number of HSIs in
their postsecondary sector, invested in Latino students in these institutions, and these
institutions make concerted efforts to raise college success rates, a socioeconomic
transformation among Latinos is possible. That is, investing strategically in HSIs to
produce a greater number of degree completers might serve to transform the next generation of Latino families and the communities in which they live.
National Overview of HSIs
HSIs are federally recognized postsecondary institutions that possess at least 25% of
Latino students enrolled full-time. HSI status enables institutions to apply for distinct
federal funding programs, such as Title V or the Developing HSI Program, as long as
these institutions also serve Latino students who are economically disadvantaged.
Ed Excelencia, a nonprofit organization that has examined the progress and development of this postsecondary sector, further expanded the definition and HSI classification to include â€œEmerging Hispanic Serving Institutions.â€ Latinos make up 15% to
24% of full-time enrollment (FTE) at these colleges and universities (Santiago, 2010).
The majority of HSIs are located in California (n = 127), Texas (n = 68), and Puerto
Rico (n = 59). In 2012-2013, there were 370 HSIs located in 16 states (including
Puerto Rico). The top five locations that are home to the majority of HSIs include
California, Texas, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Florida. Most HSIs are public 2-year
institutions (48%) compared with 20% public 2-year, 28% private 4-year, and 4%
private 2-year institutions.
Many HSIs are also located in cities (52%) and suburbs (31%; Santiago, 2014).
Because proximity to family is a significant factor in the college choice processes of
Latino students (Hurtado & Ruiz, 2012; Lopez-Turley, 2006; Contreras, 2011), many
HSIs have developed due to their geographical location and Latino demographic
growth that has occurred in several states. This institutional sector is therefore poised
to expand alongside the unprecedented growth that the Latino population is experiencing across the nation.
154 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 14(2)
Most of the research on HSIs has emphasized the potential of this sector to raise college
access and completion rates for Latino students in states with a large proportion of Latino
students (Arciniega, 2012; Galdeano and Santiago, 2014; Hurtado & Ruiz, 2012;
Santiago, 2006). Researchers acknowledge that Latinos attending HSIs have greater academic and financial needs (Nunez & Elizondo, 2012; NuÃ±ez, Sparks, & Hernandez,
2011). Few studies have critically examined and challenged HSIs to raise the bar to better serve their critical mass of Latino students and improve their academic outcomes.
A study conducted on the academic outcomes of Latinos in select HSIs found that
while Latino students have access to these institutions, these colleges were not producing equitable opportunities or outcomes for their Latino students (Contreras, et. al.,
2008). That is, the Latino students within the HSIs examined had lower graduation rates
in math, science, and engineering majors at 2- and 4-year institutions compared with
their peers in these majors. In addition, after a careful review of institutional missions
and marketing materials (e.g., websites), the HSIs examined possessed a â€œclosetedidentity.â€ That is, based on their overall student outcomes and their institutional profile
(e.g., mission, strategic initiatives), the colleges did not appear to have distinct effort to
acknowledge their high Latino (and/or minority enrollment) or raise the success and
completion rates of their critical mass of Latino students (Contreras, et. al., 2008).
Another study conducted across HSIs from both the mainland United States and
Puerto Rico explored completion rates and found that U.S. institutions that expend more
financial resources on their students are likely to experience higher college graduation
rates (NuÃ±ez, Sparks, & Hernandez, 2011). Nunez and colleagues (2012) further found
that student persistence is lower for institutions with a student body largely from a lower
socioeconomic status. As a result, institutions must compensate for limits to financial
resources experienced by many Latino students in HSIs. This research suggests that
HSIs with large percentages of low-income students have the challenge of having adequate resources to invest in the student supports necessary to assist their students.
Although HSIs have great potential to contribute to college attainment (Hurtado &
Ruiz, 2012; Contreras et. al., 2008), Latinos are often treated as commodities by campuses, where the HSI identity is utilized to seek federal funding opportunities. Yet, in
many of these institutions, targeted efforts to raise Latino academic performance is
unclear, and those most likely to benefit from these student support grants are lowincome White and Asian American students. Many campuses utilize these grants for
whole school improvement with minimal planning for raising Latino student achievement (Hurtado & Ruiz, 2012), transfer, and 4-year degree completion. The challenge,
therefore, is to modify existing postsecondary infrastructures to serve their critical
masses of Latino, underrepresented, and first-generation students.
A central challenge faced by many HSIs today is the fact that the majority of HSIs
are CCs that already possess multiple identities. Hurtado and Ruiz (2012) discussed
how HSIs may possess multiple identities with competing interests that exist within
the institution. They describe how the institutional missions of HSIs were not developed with the intent to serve Latino students, but now that they possess this label, must
Contreras and Contreras 155
begin to strategically plan how to serve this critical mass of students within these
postsecondary institutions (Hurtado & Ruiz, 2012).
Literature on the Role of Faculty and Staff
Faculty plays a key role in student experiences and success in higher education through
the courses they teach, informal and formal mentoring, and their research agendas
(Hurtado & Ponjuan, 2005; Turner, Gonzalez, & Wood, 2008). Faculty of color, in
particular, are more likely to serve as mentors to diverse undergraduate and graduate
students by integrating students of color into their research projects and teams (Milem,
2003). The presence of diverse faculty serves as an indication of an institutionâ€™s climate. For example, limited diversity suggests that the college climate is not progressive or open to multiple viewpoints, culturally competent, and committed to serving a
diverse student body. Faculty of color in higher education are more likely to mentor
students of color, engage diverse students in their research projects, and promote an
equitable climate in college classrooms (Milem, 2003; Turner, Gonzalez, & Wong,
2011; Turner et al., 2008).
Traditional persistence measures have focused on student progression in college beyond
the first years of college (Tinto, 1998). Adelman (2004), using the National Education
Longitudinal Study of 1988/2000 (NELS:88/2000), found that earning college credit,
particularly 20 units or more, represents a â€œtipping pointâ€ that results in students obtaining their college degree. Swanson (2008) furthered this theoretical perspective using
the same longitudinal NELS:88/00 dataset to explore the impact of dual enrollment
programs. He introduced the concept of â€œacademic momentum,â€ defined as students
who progressed past the first 2 years of college. Swanson found that students with high
academic achievement and college credits were likely to build academic momentum
that ultimately resulted in college completion. These two studies, however, were not
specifically applied to Latino students or a particular institutional type (HSIs, etc.).
Research on college completion for Latinos (Contreras, Lee, Flores-Ragade, &
McGuire, 2011; Gandara & Contreras, 2009) have focused on the pathway to college,
acknowledging the systemic issues that contribute to low academic preparation in
P-12 settings and inhibit academic persistence and success. A central argument that
has helped to explain low college completion, particularly among Latino CC students,
is the overrepresentation of Latinos in developmental (remedial) education courses
(Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2010). Students fall into a cyclical trap of taking developmental courses repeatedly, which ultimately inhibit their exposure to the curriculum pertaining to their intended major. This process can take students up to 2 years and can
lead to fatigue and a loss of interest in higher education altogether.
156 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 14(2)
Another important explanation for low Latino student completion rates is the fact
that Latino students work a considerably greater number of hours than their peers
while going to college (Author). The low socioeconomic backgrounds of Latino students, coupled with their debt averse approach to college (Cunningham & Santiago,
2008) have resulted in a large proportion of Latino students working greater than 20
hours a week (Gandara & Contreras, 2009) ). Working more than 20 hours a week
influences the amount of time spent on studying, the ability to be engaged on their
college campus, the likelihood of college departure, and lengthens the overall time to
degree completion (Gandara & Contreras, 2009).
The challenge with understanding college completion stems from the disconnect
between the IPEDS data collection rates (four-year, six-year) and the actual Latino
college completion rates. Since Latinos on average complete college in 9 years (Lee et
al., 2011), a four-year and six-year completion rate is limited in depicting actual completion rates for Latino students. The education field has been unable to capture the
full story of college completion when students are not followed for longer periods. At
the same time, students should not be taking an average of 9 years to complete college.
Longitudinal analysis of completion outcomes would help researchers and institutions
to better understand actual Latino college completion rates.
Additional studies related to college completion have explored the role that college
climate plays in student motivation, engagement, and persistence (Hurtado, 1994; Nora
& Crisp, 2012). College climates play an important role in student success. Students
elect to remain part of college cultures if the environment is seen as welcoming, supportive, and nondiscriminatory. Students who are likely to complete college are also
involved and engaged on college campuses or volunteer opportunities that colleges
present in conjunction with communities or service learning coursework (Author).
Overview of HSIs in California
In 2014, Latinos will surpass Whites as the largest ethnic group in the state of
California. California is home to the majority of HSIs in the country, and this list is
growing dramatically. In 2012-2013, there were 127 institutions in California classified as HSIs, an increase of 15 institutions from the previous year. Seventy-six percent
of all HSIs in California (n = 85) were CCs. In addition, a total of 71 postsecondary
institutions in California can be classified as â€œemerging HSIsâ€ where Latinos represent
between 15% and 24% of the student population (Santiago, 2014). Thus, California
has the largest number of emerging HSIs and is poised to have well over 200 in the
next 5 years. The HSI sector in California is therefore rapidly changing, and institutions are faced with larger proportions of minority college goers, which has altered
institutional climates, challenges, and opportunities.
To understand the outcomes for Latino students in select 2-year and 4-year public
institutions, the authors analyzed 14 four-year HSIs from the California State University
(CSU) system throughout California and 42 CC HSIs in the greater Southern California
region. The 14 CSU campuses provide a systemic perspective of outcomes at 4-year
HSIs, while the CCs selected were chosen to assess outcomes in the greater Los Angeles
region, the geographical area with the largest proportion of HSIs.
Contreras and Contreras 157
The central research questions include the following:
Research Question 1: What are the educational outcomes (e.g., persistence rates,
graduation rates) for Chicano/Latino students attending select HSIs in California
public colleges and universities?
Research Question 2: What does the data reveal about the state of HSIs and their
record of serving Latino students?
Research Question 3: What are limitations in the available data and what should
HSIs be collecting and utilizing to assess their progress and record for serving
This article utilizes secondary data analysis to assess select student outcomes to better
understand student success and completion rates at public HSIs in California. We examine Latino student outcomes at 56 HSIs largely from Southern California. Public colleges
and universities were selected, both 2-year and 4-year because the majority of Latinos
who do transition to college are attending these public postsecondary institutions.
This study explored Latino student outcomes at 14 CSUs and 42 CCs out of the 127
HSIs in the state. The 14 CSU campuses used to complete the first stage of the analysis
represent all of the CSUs that have designated HSI status out of 23 campuses in the
system. The variables used to conduct the analysis of outcomes include IPEDS data on
completions. In particular, the 4-year and 6-year college completion rates are utilized.
The second sector analyzed included 42 HSIs that are CCs from Southern California.
The regions included in this HSI analysis are Los Angeles, Orange County, the Inland
Empire, and San Diego County. Forty-two out of 46 institutions examined from
Southern California, or 91%, were HSIs. All of the CCs from the Los Angeles and
Inland Empire were HSIs, whereas 6 out of 9 CCs from Orange County and 7 out of 8
from San Diego had HSI status. However, the 3 CCs not yet designated as HSIs could
be classified as emerging HSIs as they have 19.8% (Coastline CC), 22.9% (Irvine
Valley CC), and 23.4% (Saddleback CC) of their respective students who are Latinos.
The CSU is the 4-year postsecondary sector with the majority of HSIs (n = 14). In
2013, there were four University of California (UC) campuses classified as HSIs, and
for those students accessing 4-year institutions from the CC system in the state, the
majority of Latino students are transferring to CSU campuses. There is a great deal of
inequity in access rates for Latino CC students accessing University of California
campuses (Malcom, 2013). The CSU system, however, due to the number of campuses
geographically accessible throughout California, lower tuition fees, and lenient admission requirements (compared with most UCs), has been a top choice for Latino students transitioning to college immediately after high school graduation and for the
students transferring from CC to the 4-year sector.
158 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 14(2)
The faculty data for the CSU system show tenured Latino faculty representing only
8.8% whereas White faculty represented 68% in 2012; 8.5% of Chicanos/Latinos are
â€œprobationary,â€ defined by the CSU as the period prior to earning tenure at a CSU
campus (see Table 1). Thus, the pipeline of assistant professors in the CSU system is
also very limited and does not come close to parity (Contreras, 2005) or equity in representation within the CSU system that helps to account for inequitable student outcomes. That is, the leaders of and within institutions, particularly faculty who teach the
next generation, remain far from understanding the first-generation backgrounds, cultures, or lived experiences of the students they are expected to teach.
The staffing data for the CSU campuses are calculated to understand the representation across positions within each ethnic group. This is misleading. Rather than understanding the representation of each group by category, the data collected for staff mask
the true representation in professional or management positions compared with the
different ethnic groups. Within the Latino ethnic group, Latinos are more likely to
occupy professional or technical or administrative support positions within CSU campuses (CSU Chancellorâ€™s Office, 2014). Conversely, Whites are more likely to hold
faculty positions in the CSU system than any other ethnic group. For example, Whites
constituted 42% of faculty in the CSU system in 2012 compared with 18% Latino,
20% Black, or 37% Asian American (CSU Chancellorâ€™s Office, 2014)
The graduation rate for CSU campuses illustrates lower graduation rates for Latinos
in 12 of the 14 HSIs in the system compared with the overall 6-year graduation rate
(Table 2). Latinos had higher graduation rates that their White peers at CSUâ€“Bakersfield
(42% compared with 38% for Whites). CSUâ€“Los Angeles had the same graduation
rate between Latinos and Whites (33%). It is important to note that the overall 6-year
graduation rates are low for Latinos across the CSU system. In fact, in all but two
campuses, the 6-year graduation rates were below 50%.
California CC Context
An important aspect to understanding Hispanic serving CCs in California relates to the
campus leadership, faculty, and staff. An important question for this sector remains
unanswered: Who are the individuals and groups â€œservingâ€ Latino students and do
Table 1. CSU Headcount of Full-Time Faculty by Tenure Status and Ethnicity, Fall 2012.
Black or African
or Alaska Native Asian Latino White
Tenured 7,239 3.9 (n = 280) 0.01 (n = 42) 15.6 (n = 1,132) 8.8 (n = 634) 68.0 (n = 4,913)
Probationary 2,118 3.8 (n = 81) 0.01 (n = 15) 22.6 (n = 478) 8.5 (n = 181) 57.0 (n = 1,208)
Temporary 1,991 3.1 (n = 62) 0.005 (n = 10) 7.3 (n = 146) 8.2 (n = 163) 75.4 (n = 1,504)
Total 11,348 3.7 (n = 423) 0.006 (n = 67) 15.5 (n = 1,756) 8.6 (n = 978) 67.2 (n = 7,625)
Note. CSU = California State University.
Contreras and Contreras 159
they have cultural awareness of the linguistic, immigration, generational, and K-12
backgrounds and contexts that Latino students experience in the P-20 continuum?
Latinos constitute 16% of administrators and less than 14% of faculty (Table 3) in CCs
despite the fact that more than three quarters of the entire system are HSIs (76%;
California Community College [CCC] Chancellorâ€™s Office, 2014). This presents a
challenge for institutions particularly because few leaders may have a strong cultural
understanding of the Latino community and their specific history in the United States.
The California CCs are the primary entry point for Latinos transitioning to college in
the state. More than 2.4 million students attend California CCs, with Latinos constituting 41% in 2013 (CCC Chancellorâ€™s Office, 2013). Four outcome variables were utilized to assess student success and completion rates to provide a comprehensive
overview of persistence, academic engagement, and overall success with transfer or
degree completion. These variables are contained in the CSU chancellorâ€™s database,
DataMart, which provides a publicly accessible database of select student and institutional outcomes for the 112 CCs in California. The Scorecard Metric developed by the
California Community College Chancellorâ€™s office (utilized for this analysis) includes
the following student outcome variables:
Table 2. Six-Year Graduation Rate by Race/Ethnicity.
Islander Black Latino White
CSUâ€“Bakersfield 45.8 39 50 43 16 42 38
CSUâ€“Channel Islands 29.8 51 0 62 25 46 55
CSUâ€“Dominguez Hills 49.0 28 50 24 22 31 46
CSUâ€“Fresno 38.1 48 65 46 34 43 56
CSUâ€“Fullerton 33.9 51 50 55 41 45 56
CSUâ€“Long Beach 33.1 57 54 60 50 51 61
CSUâ€“Los Angeles 55.3 37 71 51 26 33 33
CSUâ€“Monterey Bay 36.0 37 17 48 15 34 40
CSUâ€“Northridge 37.3 48 54 50 32 44 58
CSUâ€“Poly Pomona 34.3 57 25 56 54 43 55
CSUâ€“San Bernardino 49.3 44 31 51 37 42 49
CSUâ€“San Marcos 30.9 45 29 50 50 40 45
CSUâ€“Stanislaus 39.9 49 60 54 29 46 49
San Diego State
27.1 66 60 65 63 61 68
Note. CSU = California State University.
160 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 14(2)
1. Persistence Rate: Defined as a student who has been enrolled for three consecutive terms.
2. 30 Units Rate: Students who have earned 30 units.
3. Completion: Student Progress and Attainment Rate (SPAR), which is a 6-year
cohort completion rate for students who either transferred to a 4-year university or completed a 2-year degree.
These measures are utilized to assess the overall performance of 42 CCs from the
Southern California region.
Using the student scorecard metric measures from the California Community College
Chancellorâ€™s Office enables the authors to conduct cross-institutional comparisons by
race and ethnicity. For the purpose of this analysis, the authors selected two persistence measures: (a) the students who stayed enrolled consecutively for three terms
(standard persistence) and (b) the 30-unit rate. The first measure of persistence is considered a â€œstandardâ€ measure because it has long been believed that students enrolled
past the first year and into the second have reached a â€œmomentum point.â€
The key data points utilized in this study include: 1) persistence rates, students
enrolling for three consecutive terms, and 2) the 30-unit rate. These data were used to
explore student outcomes to better understand the progress made by Latino students at
specific points in their higher education pathway.
Tables 4 and 5 illustrate an important story about persistence rates and the measure
itself. The persistence rates for Latino students appears to be comparable and in some
cases higher than the overall rates for their peers across CCs from the Los Angeles,
Inland Empire, Orange County, and San Diego regions. In Los Angeles, the persistence rate for Latinos was higher than the overall rate in 9 out of the 20 colleges. Gaps
in the rates were also smaller for this measure. A similar pattern is seen in the Inland
Empire, with 3 out of 9 colleges having high persistence rates for Latino students.
Three out of 6 colleges in Orange County had high persistence rates for Latinos while
Table 3. Faculty in Community Colleges, Fall 2013.
Fall 2013, N Fall 2013, %
Academic, tenured/tenure track total 16,142 20.13%
African American 913 5.66%
American Indian/Alaskan Native 141 0.87%
Asian 1,407 8.72%
Hispanic 2,233 13.83%
Multiethnicity 141 0.87%
Pacific Islander 96 0.59%
Unknown 794 4.92%
White non-Hispanic 10,417 64.53%
Contreras and Contreras 161
3 out of 7 in San Diego County had higher Latino persistence rates compared with the
overall rate of their respective colleges.
The 30-unit rate tells a different story. The data convey declining persistence rates
for Latinos. Latinos from Los Angles CCs had higher 30-unit rates than the overall rate
in only five colleges, one college from the Inland Empire, none from Orange County,
and one from San Diego County. It is important to note that the 30-unit rate is assessed
because it is believed to be a strong predictor of student transfer (McCormick &
Carroll, 1999; Prince & Jenkins, 2005).
Table 4. Community College Persistence Outcomes, Los Angeles and Inland Empire, 2012.
Persistence rate 30-unit rate
Latino Latino White Overall Latino White Overall
Los Angeles community college district
Antelope Valley College 38.3 I I I 62.3 65.9 62.6
Cerritos College 60.9 69.9 69.3 68.5 65.0 70.1 65.0
Citrus College 56.2 68.9 70.7 68.6 62.9 68.4 65.1
College of the Canyons 39.0 62.3 55.1 57.2 66.5 68.8 68.2
East Los Angeles College 64.3 65.1 66.7 64.4 65.1 60.6 66.0
El Camino College 44.1 67.5 67.8 66.5 63.3 69.6 66.4
Glendale Community College 25.7 67.5 77.0 73.0 60.2 80.7 74.6
Long Beach City College 48.9 71.9 74.8 73.7 64.6 76.2 68.7
Los Angeles City College 43.3 65.1 66.7 59.1 56.9 73.7 61.6
Los Angeles Harbor College 54.8 54.7 54.3 54.3 66.0 65.9 64.2
Los Angeles Mission College 71.8 57.1 47.4 57.3 57.6 57.9 57.3
Los Angeles Pierce College 42.6 65.7 63.7 63.0 63.4 75.3 69.9
Los Angeles Southwest College 32.9 44.7 33.3 44.1 54.8 100 50.2
Los Angeles Trade-Tech College 54.0 58.5 57.5 58.5 58.9 70.0 57.1
Los Angeles Valley College 44.9 52.0 64.5 56.0 56.2 70.5 62.5
Moorpark College 26.6 67.6 70.3 68.0 67.8 75.5 73.6
Pasadena City College 40.1 70.6 68.9 72.1 64.5 72.4 72.2
Rio Hondo College 77.3 71.1 70.5 68.0 61.7 69.0 63.4
Santa Monica College 34.3 63.8 65.4 64.4 63.6 73.8 68.6
West Los Angeles College 38.4 56.3 50.9 50.5 67.1 56.1 58.6
Chaffey College 54.6 56.4 64.1 57.8 57.0 66.9 61.9
Crafton Hills College 40.9 69.1 65.8 66.4 64.6 64.8 64.7
Moreno Valley College 52.1 I I I I I I
Mt. San Antonio College 54.8 71.5 74.5 72.4 62.6 68.9 67.6
Mt. San Jacinto College 39.6 59.9 66.0 65.0 55.1 63.3 60.4
Norco College 51.4 I I I I I I
Riverside City College 50.6 67.5 68.3 67.1 61.8 66.4 63.6
San Bernardino Valley College 61.2 67.7 65.2 63.4 59.5 64.0 58.5
Victor Valley College 44.3 57.6 60.8 58.7 58.6 63.3 60.4
Note. â€œIâ€ denotes that the data was incomplete for this field.
162 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 14(2)
Table 5. Persistence Rates, Orange County and San Diego County, 2012.
Persistence rate 30-unit rate
Latino Latino White Overall Latino White Overall
Cypress College 39.8 70.5 73.9 71.6 62.5 70.0 69.2
Fullerton College 48.0 68.6 69.2 68.3 67.2 70.2 68.5
Golden West College 27.3 75.9 75.6 75.7 66.1 72.4 72.2
Orange Coast College 29.4 78.8 76.3 79.2 70.9 75.2 75.5
Santa Ana College 51.3 69.5 78.6 72.8 65.3 76.3 70.4
Santiago Canyon College 43.5 62.3 55.1 57.2 68.9 73.4 71.4
Cuyamaca College 31.4 64.0 70.3 68.1 62.6 68.3 67.1
Grossmont College 29.4 66.9 70.3 69.8 62.4 69.8 67.2
Miracosta College 29.7 60.3 61.2 61.9 60.0 69.2 67.7
Palomar College 35.3 59.7 65.2 63.2 57.6 68.2 64.6
San Diego City College 48.7 53.9 40.3 50.0 53.4 44.3 49.4
San Diego Mesa College 30.5 64.4 62.7 61.8 57.9 61.9 59.4
Southwestern College 54.8 73.6 70.6 72.2 64.3 65.0 64.4
However, Tables 6 and 7 show these persistence rates do not translate into degree
completion. These findings are therefore contrary to existing theories on academic
momentum as a result of persisting past the first year or with a certain number of college units. Latino students appear to be dropping out of college at very high rates after
the first 2 years despite having invested in earning 30 units or greater. Thus, the authors
question whether the current tools and theories for assessing student persistence are
relevant to understanding Latino student success in the context of California CCs.
The college completion measure the authors used to conduct their analysis of Southern
California CC completion rates is derived from a 6-year cohort analysis by the California
Community College Data Mart MIS. The SPAR is the 6-year rate for CC students who
either completed a 2-year degree or transferred to a 4-year institution. The problem with
this measure is that it conflates two student outcomes: degree completion and transfer.
Although both are measures of student success, they are not the same and should not be
compiled into one variable for analysis. It is important to know how many students are
completing their degrees from CCs and in what fields as well as how many students are
transferring to 4-year institutions. A more appropriate measure would be a longitudinal
college completion rate that follows a student who transferred to understand their actual
4-year degree completion rate. In addition, the 2-year degree rate should be disaggregated to understand how long it takes a student to complete a CC degree by field, and
for those who completed their degrees, the pathways they pursued following 2-year
degree completion (e.g., transfer to a four-year college, entry into the workforce).
Contreras and Contreras 163
Table 6. Community Colleges Success and Completion Rates, Los Angeles and Inland
Completion rate (SPAR) within 6 years
Institution % Chicano/Latino Latino White Overall
Antelope Valley College 38.3 42.3 50.1 46.0
Cerritos College 60.9 35.2 45.7 39.9
Citrus College 56.2 38.7 51.4 44.4
College of the Canyons 39.0 43.9 59.4 56.3
East Los Angeles College 64.3 35.2 48.5 41.9
El Camino College 44.1 33.3 56.0 45.3
Glendale Community College 25.7 37.7 63.7 52.3
Long Beach City College 48.9 37.9 53.2 43.4
Los Angeles City College 43.3 29.9 47.7 37.1
Los Angeles Harbor College 54.8 38.9 54.9 44.6
Los Angeles Mission College 71.8 32.3 44.7 34.8
Los Angeles Pierce College 42.6 39.7 59.8 52.5
Los Angeles Southwest College 32.9 42.1 66.7 35.4
Los Angeles Trade-Tech College 54.0 30.6 55.0 32.8
Los Angeles Valley College 44.9 35.6 46.9 42.0
Moorpark College 26.6 51.5 65.9 63.8
Pasadena City College 40.1 36.8 61.1 55.0
Rio Hondo College 77.3 34.7 45.7 39.9
Santa Monica College 34.3 36.6 64.5 51.4
West Los Angeles College 38.4 42.1 43.9 39.3
Chaffey College 54.6 37.9 49.7 45.6
Crafton Hills College 40.9 38.2 44.8 42.1
Moreno Valley College 52.1 I I I
Mt. San Antonio College 54.8 38.4 49.4 48.6
Mt. San Jacinto College 39.6 36.9 44.4 41.7
Norco College 51.4 I I I
Riverside City College 50.6 34.9 43.0 40.2
San Bernardino Valley College 61.2 32.0 35.6 35.6
Victor Valley College 44.3 32.3 43.3 38.6
Note. â€œIâ€ denotes that the data was incomplete for this field. SPAR = Student Progress and Attainment Rate.
Across all 42 institutions that were included in the Southern California data file,1
Latinos had lower college completion rates than their White peers, and in only 1 institutionâ€™s profile, West Los Angeles College, did Latinos exceed the collegeâ€™s overall
completion rate (42.1% compared with 39.3%), but still remained behind their White
peers in transfer or degree completion. Thus, despite the fact that Latinos represent a
sizable critical mass of the student body, their completion rates in the HSIs examined
over a 6-year period represents systemic failure. Having a large critical mass of students dropping out of college at alarming rates, when it is so difficult to transition
164 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 14(2)
students to college in the first place, is a central challenge for HSIs to address through
targeted intervention, academic support, and institutional investment.
The data reveal that graduation rates on average are poor for Latino students in both
the CSU and CC systems in California. Completion rates are lower for Latinos than
their White peers across the majority of CSU campuses and community across various
regions in the state.
Social stratification is occurring in higher education in California, with the majority
of Latinos transitioning to the CC system. Even the students who are attending schools
within high performing schools, and are high performing themselves, are opting for
the 2-year CCs as the primary pathway to college (Gandara, Driscoll, & Alvarado,
2010; Gandara & Contreras, 2009; Malcom-Piqueax, 2013). Forty-six percent of
Latinos who attended the top 10% of high schools in the state chose to enroll in CCs
immediately following high school graduation (Malcom-Piqueax, 2013). Segregation,
therefore, is not only occurring in K-12 schools, the public higher education system in
California has become increasingly stratified as well.
The CSUs play a critical role because for those students in California who do
transfer, they are transferring to this system as the secondary pathway following
CC enrollment. The following recommendations are intended as a starting point for
campuses to consider as they work to better serve their Latino students attending
Table 7. Community Colleges Completion Rates, Orange and San Diego Counties, 2006-2012.
Completion rate (SPAR) within 6 years
Institution % Chicano/Latino Latino White Overall
Cypress College 39.8 37.0 47.3 48.0
Fullerton College 48.0 42.2 50.6 49.0
Golden West College 27.3 38.1 50.7 51.5
Orange Coast College 29.4 50.6 59.7 59.0
Santa Ana College 51.3 41.3 57.4 49.0
Santiago Canyon College 43.5 47.1 58.7 57.1
Cuyamaca College 31.4 40.9 50.1 48.4
Grossmont College 29.4 45.4 52.3 50.4
Miracosta College 29.7 41.6 59.7 55.1
Palomar College 35.3 43.5 55.1 52.2
San Diego City College 48.7 56.1 70.3 62.1
San Diego Mesa College 30.5 51.0 65.4 62.0
Southwestern College 54.8 41.4 47.7 43.1
Contreras and Contreras 165
Improve Measures of Student Success
As a first step, campuses need to improve their measures of student success, which can
be done in three ways:
1. Rethink traditional measures of student success.
Measures that the Data Mart MIS systems are utilizing as the scorecard metric do not
represent what should be considered to be â€œsuccess.â€ A 6-year CC completion rate, a
6-year transfer rate, and a 6-year time frame for measuring transitioning out of remedial tracks are far from optimal student outcomes for Latinos and all students. For
example, students transitioning out of remedial math and remedial English are measured using 6-year cohort rates. Six years on a remedial track is far too long to consider
this success by any institution of system. Full-time and part-time students should take
no more than 2 years to move beyond remedial tracks in CCs.
2. Conduct data collection and analysis beyond the standard IPEDS data collection efforts, particularly for 4-year institutions.
The Federal IPEDS data warehouse collects limited institutional data on student, staff,
and faculty outcomes. HSIs that are committed to increasing college completion rates
should expand these data points to monitor student and institutional progress toward
better serving Latino students.
3. Disaggregate underrepresented minority (URM) students.
Many institutions post Proposition 209 have opted to analyze their data by aggregating
URM students together. This approach masks the inequities present across groups and
fails to provide institutions with an accurate look at individual ethnic group progress
and academic challenges.
Increase Latino Representation Across Systems
Second, we recommend increasing Latino representation across academic systems by
doing the following:
1. Increase Latino faculty in HSIs.
Latino faculty play a critical role in Latino student retention and climate on college
campuses. Latinos and faculty of color are more likely to mentor students of color and
provide direct research experiences. Latino faculty rates remain far below the percentages of White and Asian American faculty across CSUs and CCs. States have
166 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 14(2)
historically sponsored â€œforgivable loan programsâ€ or â€œgrow-your-ownâ€ programs that
have proven effective at diversifying applicant pools.
2. Increase Latino administrators in HSIs.
Few Latinos are leading campuses within the CSU and CC system. This includes midto high-level managers. Increasing Latino administrators and leaders would help support the void in leaders who possess cultural awareness and direct experience in
working with Latino communities.
Seek New Approaches for Latino Student Success
Based on these findings, we recommend seeking new approaches to Latino student
success at both 2-year and 4-year sectors, including the following:
1. Accelerate time-to-degree completion.
Actual time-to-degree rates are far too long for students. Transfer rates also represent
unrealistic and long time frames. Students lose momentum and motivation after
attending college for so many years. To accelerate time to degree, institutions need to
rethink the way they administer financial aid. Investing in 2-year students at higher
financial rates would enable them to attend college for a greater number of units, work
less hours, and reduce time to degree.
2. Place greater emphasis on part-time students.
The majority of Latino students are attending college part-time due to financial need.
This lengthens the time to degree for students and increases the likelihood of dropping
out from college. Changing work study options for the part-time working student
would enable the state to tie financial aid to institutions and reduce the need for students to work long hours in low-wage sectors.
Address Structural Challenges
The authors also recommend that learning institutions address structural challenges:
1. Rethink financial aid for CC and part-time, low-income students.
If the academic community is serious about accelerating time to degree, the way financial aid is calculated needs to shift and tie to jobs that pay for studentsâ€™ college tuition.
This model would enable CC students to earn valuable industry experience and work
less hours, ultimately enabling students to transition from part-time to full-time
Contreras and Contreras 167
2. Revisit the organizational structure of the CC system.
The California Community College State Chancellorâ€™s Office is likely constrained by
being part of the state legislative processâ€”the state mandates allocations and approves
the budget for the CC system, as seen in the case of the K-12 budget. The CSU and UC
systems are independent from this infrastructure and still receive state funding. The
current system creates reactive leadership and inhibits innovation.
Because this work is descriptive in nature and the systemic data remain limited, it is
difficult to fully understand the complexities of student and institutional outcomes at
HSIs. The recommendations provided are intended to start a conversation on the
unique role that HSIs play and have the opportunity to play for Latino students in
California. However, individual-level student data, rather than aggregate student data,
would greatly improve our ability to understand the barriers to college completion. For
example, developmental course enrollment at the CC and CSU levels are only provided at the institutional level and these data are incomplete. That is, not all institutions are providing these data to the DataMart system. Several missing values, and
variables altogether, influence the quality of the analyses that can be conducted. This
article is intended to serve as a descriptive starting point.
The outcomes for Latino students in Californiaâ€™s CSU and CC systems represent a
serious challenge for the state. Although Latino students have relatively comparable
persistence rates to their peers, these rates are still unacceptable. In addition, the persistence rates do not translate into college completion rates. Thus, the traditional
approach to assessing persistence for students, and Latinos in particular, is obsolete.
Latino students are more likely to be attending part-time, work more than 20 hr per
week, stop in and out of college, and have far longer time-to-degree averages than the
recorded 6-year rate. The 30-unit rate and first-year retention rate therefore may not be
the best predictors of college completion.
Due to the changing nature of todayâ€™s college student, the measures utilized to
determine student success need altering. They are not the most appropriate measures
nor should be acceptable measures of systemic â€œsuccess.â€ The persistence rates are too
narrow and do not appear to be the best predictor of college success for Latinos, the
remedial course taking data for CC students are incomplete and therefore do not allow
for critical review and analysis at a systemic level, and the 6-year cohort analyses for
transfer and 2-year degree completion is also an unacceptable window. Six years to
transfer is far from what one would consider a successful outcome. Minimally, there
needs to be several data points reported, such as the 2-year transfer rate, 2-year degree
completion rate, and 3-year transfer and completion rates, to better understand how
difficult it is for our students to reach the intended milestones and develop tangible
strategies for reducing the time to degree and transfer.
168 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 14(2)
Thus, it is critical to modify these measures and utilize data to enact formative
change in student academic support and financial aid distribution. Furthermore, it is
imperative for the CSU and CC systems to reduce the time to degree to increase the
number of Latinos completing college. If academic performance and college completion rates are not altered, California is poised to consist of a sizable Latino underclass
(Author, 2009, 2011). While HSIs represent one sector that may raise college completion rates, these institutions in California are serving the majority of Latino college
goers. They are the postsecondary institutions with the ability to transform the outcomes for the next generation of Latinos. That is, if postsecondary systems and individual institutions invest wisely in altering how Latinos are served in CSU and CC
HSIs, California could also be a transformed state in the processâ€”a state with a highly
educated workforce prepared for economic flexibility, sustainability, and the demands
of the future.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
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