In 2014, Raquel Gonzalez enrolled at a California community college to transfer to a four-year university. Despite having a high school grade point average of 3.7 and an advanced placement calculus exam score of five, Gonzalez was enrolled in non-credit bearing remedial math courses, which delayed her ability to transfer by more than three years. Unfortunately, Gonzalez is not an exception, many students fall into the black hole that is remedial education, and too many of them never earn a degree or transfer as a result. In fact, among Latinx students who enrolled in the 2013-2014 year, only 37% of those enrolled in remedial education courses graduated within six years, compared to 64% of their peers who enrolled in transfer-level coursework. 

Today’s students see the promise and power of higher education. They are more diverse in age, race, and income, but they face archaic policies and practices that slow progress or even lead to students dropping out. Historic numbers of students of color are going to college but are met with unnecessary hurdles and insufficient support to succeed in higher education. As the fifth largest economy in the world, California is home to the nation’s largest Latinx population and the fifth largest Black population. Yet there is persistent inequity in higher education: Only 27% of Black and 14% of Latinx adults have a bachelor’s degree. 

As the largest higher education system in the nation, the California Community Colleges (CCC) enroll 60% of college students in the state seeking to earn an associate degree and/or transfer to a four-year university. But as student Alexander Chacon from Pasadena City College shares in our report, Chutes or Ladders: Strengthening California Community College Transfer So More Students Earn the Degrees They Seek, multiple barriers, including duplicative, ever-changing coursework requirements and a lack of undefined systemwide transferable course agreements between colleges and universities, have resulted in a convoluted transfer maze where students are often lost. Amongst students with stated transfer goals, only 19% transfer within four years, and 28% within six years.

Despite these challenges, much progress has been made. The Campaign for College Opportunity has been leading the charge to remove systemic barriers to college access and success, like the ones Gonzalez and Chacon faced, since 2004. By educating policymakers about the issues confronting California’s students and the recommendations to overcome them, strengthening our broad-based and statewide coalition of allies who join us in advocating for student-centered policy and practice reforms, producing actionable, groundbreaking research, increasing the visibility of higher education issues through coverage of our work in high profile, traditional media outlets, and engaging with state and local leaders, we have been at the forefront of significant higher education reforms that put students first.

The Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT), which we championed in 2010, was designed to become the preferred path by which students transfer to the state’s four-year universities. Since then, more than 360,000 ADTs have been conferred, and we were proud to join Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 6, 2021, to sign the Student Transfer Achievement Reform act, a historic policy that will strengthen the ADT, so more students achieve their transfer goals faster. Additionally, we successfully advocated for policy reforms requiring community colleges to use high school performance instead of relying on standardized tests to place students in college-level courses versus the overwhelming practice of putting students in remedial education courses. Before this policy, 75% of students were placed in remedial education, including a disproportionate number of Black and Latinx students. We joined the fight to eliminate the use of the ACT and SAT in admissions at the University of California and California State University, which follows a national and statewide movement urging a more equitable admissions process that do not rely on racially biased admissions tests that do not accurately reflect the talent and potential of students. And we have effectively advocated for state budget investments to provide the state’s public higher education systems with funding stability, promote college and university collaboration, and make real progress towards serving more students, improving the transfer pathway, increasing graduation rates, and closing racial equity gaps. 

There is still much more work to do to expand college access, protect financial aid, and implement reforms that improve student outcomes so we can eliminate racial inequity in higher education. And we are prepared to do it. We invite you to take action by reading our publications and supporting our efforts. To learn more about our work, please visit our website or connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram.