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In Santa Barbara, Latinos Are Veering off College Path

Dismal College Attendance Rates Reveal Students Not Going to College

Photo: Paul Wellman File Shawn Carey

Only about 12 percent of Latinx high school seniors in Santa Barbara Unified went on to a four-year college or university straight out of high school last year. Comparatively, their white counterparts attended four-year institutions at a 41 percent rate in 2017-18. Future Leaders of America (FLA) Executive Director Eder Gaona-Macedo said he’s not surprised by the disparity and that it’s not unique to Santa Barbara: “It’s a systemic issue.”

While the achievement gap is an insidious issue affecting all counties across the state, Santa Barbara Unified’s four-year college attendance rate for Latinx students is almost half the state’s 20 percent. Among socioeconomically disadvantaged students, only 10 percent made it to a four-year institution straight out of high school last year.

Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Shawn Carey said that she and her team are looking closely at this data “with an eye toward improving equity in student outcomes.” Carey pointed out that the district’s overall college-going rate that includes two-year institutions are above state averages, adding that the Santa Barbara City College Promise program has had a positive impact. In the district, 70.6 percent of Latinx students attend some form of college, compared to the state’s 57.6 percent; and 80.9 percent of white students attend, compared to the state’s 70.4 percent.

However, despite the launch of the Promise program in fall 2016, City College attendance rates for Latinx students have remained steady at about 60 percent for the last five years. White students, on the other hand, have seen a 5 percent increase in enrollment to 40 percent of the total last year.

Gaona-Macedo and Future Leaders of America parents believe other factors are contributing to the disparities in four-year college attendance. One of the factors they believe is at play is that Latinx students are not completing their A-G subject requirements, courses that are necessary to apply for college, at the same rate as their white counterparts. Parents have been lobbying the school district to align graduation requirements with A-G courses to ensure everyone is on the college-attending path when they graduate from high school.

In order to have parity in college attendance rates among all students, some will need additional support, said Gaona-Macedo, and that can be controversial for people who think giving additional support is taking away from other students. The solution really starts at the school, said Gaona-Macedo. “Students tend to reach goals adults set for them.” 

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