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Archived: New Challenges Confront Students Seeking Higher Education

By the year 2012 all Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) 9th grade students will be required to complete fifteen college preparatory courses known as “A-G” in order to graduate from high school and be eligible for college. However, for many students, this may no longer be enough to get them into a California public university – at least not in the near future.

Last year, officials at the CSU system announced that they plan to decrease future enrollment as a result of the state’s economic crisis and potential cuts to education. According to the California State University system’s chancellor, Charles B. Reed, campuses will cap enrollment for the 2009-10 school year by tightening application deadlines and requirements for incoming freshmen. The University of California will also place limits on freshman enrollment next fall.

For LAUSD students working to complete basic ‘A-G’ college preparatory courses with a ‘C’ average or better, and trying to gain admission into a four-year university, the task is daunting. Three years have passed since many parent and student groups advocated for the passing of the ‘A-G for All’ resolution. Yet, LAUSD district-wide implementation is slow. The resolution required that schools provide student accessibility to fifteen courses comprising the ‘A-G’ curriculum, in addition to placing necessary resources and supports throughout LAUSD (Pre-K-12). According to a 2008 LAUSD Report Card, only twenty-five percent of students complete course requirements in four years for admission to the state’s public universities.

The district’s rollout and implementation of the courses has been uneven for several reasons. Parents and communities worked hard to ensure that all children would have access to these college preparatory classes. Now we need to continue to work toward overall accessibility and successful completion of these courses, and support students so that they can go on to college after graduation.

With new CSU/UC enrollment caps, and ongoing budget struggles within the school district, many are concerned that students in underserved communities may fall further behind in making the dream of attending a four-year college a reality. This is worrisome for everyone. It places struggling communities between a rock and a hard place, because we’re challenged at the local level by the district’s inability to ensure student academic success and college eligibility, and at a higher level by enrollment caps and budget constraints. What messages are we sending our youth?

According to a recent statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California about Californians and Higher Education, “Higher education faces immediate challenges – including the rising costs of a college education, the national economic downturn, and state government budget constraints. It also faces long-term challenges, such as projections for increased need for college-educated workers in coming years, and rapid population growth.”

The survey also revealed that nearly all Californians across a gamut of regional, political and demographic groups believe higher education to be important to the state’s economic future and quality of life.

In order to secure the competitive nature of the U.S. economy it is incumbent upon us to ensure our children have the tools necessary to thrive in a 21st century global economy. If we fail – as Thomas Friedman postulates – the “Flat World” will be totally unforgiving to the under-educated.

Investing in our youth by supporting lifelong learning and effective education and workforce development is the most important investment we can make in our country and our people,” said David Rattray of the L.A. Chamber of Commerce.

Indeed, as $100 billion in funding from the president’s new $787 billion economic stimulus package makes its way to thousands of school districts across the country, California will need to invest the money wisely, and implement effective reforms that will produce a highly-skilled workforce.

Veronica Melvin, executive director of the Alliance for a Better Community, a non-profit education advocacy group that promotes equity for Latinos. For more information call the Alliance for a Better Community at (213) 250-0052.