Despite making educational gains in the last three decades, Latinos in California are less likely to have college degrees compared to other groups, according to a report BuzzFeed News got an exclusive first look at.
"The State of Higher Education in California: Latino Report" found that about 12% of Latinos have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 53% of Asians, 42% of whites, and 23% of blacks.
The Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonprofit working on boosting the number of college graduates in California that conducted the analysis, said Latinos fall far behind in college readiness, enrollment, and degree completion. The report analyzed census data, state department of education figures, and information from public universities.
In a state where one out of every two children under the age of 18 is Latino, the findings are a serious concern, said Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity.
"If you care about the future," Siqueiros said, "whether you're Latino or not, you have to care about what happens to 15 million Californians; that's how many Latinos live in the state."
Siqueiros said a majority of Latino high school students aren't prepared for college. Only three out of every ten Latino students graduates from high school with the classes they need to apply to one of the state's four-year public institutions, according to the report.
Latino students are also significantly more likely to attend poor-performing K-12 schools, as measured by the Academic Performance Index. The report cited a UCLA study that found almost 50% of Asian students and about 40% of white students attend the top 20% of schools in the state in terms of API ratings, compared with only 12% of blacks and 9% of Latinos.
The report found that Latinos are not only less likely to attend schools that offer Advanced Placement or honors classes but are also more likely to be enrolled at schools with less qualified and inexperienced teachers. Those schools often have higher rates of expulsion, dropout, and poverty.
While enrollment by Latinos in California colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last decade, from 370,000 in 2004 to 815,000 in 2013, they often take longer to graduate and are more likely to not earn an undergraduate degree than other groups, the analysis found.
Only 30% of Latinos in community colleges transfer to a four-year university within six years compared to 39% of all students, the report said.
At the Cal State level, fewer than two out of ten freshmen graduate within the traditional four-year timeframe; only about one in ten Latinos will graduate within that same timeframe.
The University of California system graduated 60% of freshmen who enrolled in 200–-08 within four years and 83% within six years. Its Latino freshmen graduated at lower rates, 46% and 75% respectively within four and six years.
Juan Guerrero, a third-year student at Rio Hondo College in Whittier, said navigating the system can be daunting for Latino students who are the first in their family to attend college.
"You see your counselor and when you leave they give you a piece of paper and kind of explain it," Guerrero told BuzzFeed News. "I didn't know what I was getting myself into."
Guerrero said it's a struggle to enroll in the classes he needs to transfer to a four-year university; they fill up fast or get canceled. Finances also play a big factor in deciding what college to attend, said Guerrero, who hopes to transfer to the University of Utah in the fall.
"Paying out-of-state tuition is going to be difficult," he said.
Siqueiros said the state needs to provide more funding for financial aid, ensure that students who are placed in remedial classes pass them, and strengthen the pathway from community colleges to four-year universities.
The report also called for the implementation of a funding mechanism that would reward colleges not just for increasing enrollment, but also for improving graduation rates among underrepresented students.
"Either we educate more Californians," Siqueiros said, "or we are all going to pay the consequences."