A Different World: Black Students and College

Zaneta J Smith
Jul 15 · 3 min read

It seems as if we just passed through graduation season. Now the store shelves are filled with back to school items and dorm amenities. The next generation is preparing to enter college near and far.

I am a Black woman who was raised by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Thanks to the resources available to me and the administrators willing to share the resources, I was placed in gifted and talented programs. Throughout middle school I was challenged by teachers and with a curriculum that provided a higher quality experience to accommodate my abilities.

While I did not enter a gifted program in high school, due to my school’s subject matter being one that I was not interested in, I was challenged by my college counselor (one per 3000+ students). He cultivated a schedule that included Advanced Placement classes, paid work opportunities, and field trips to local colleges. This was my college preparatory experience. Due to these factors, I felt prepared to attend college. More importantly, prepared to balance life, school, and work.

I chose to attend a school outside of California. At the final hour I decided to attend Spelman College, a historically black institution in Atlanta, GA. I thought the small class sizes, student to teacher ratio, and college to career pipeline results would better suit my needs. Indeed, it did.

Now, an adjunct professor at a California State University (CSU) and a Los Angeles Community College, I am concerned about the graduation rates of Black students.

In California, there are 6% of black people between the ages of 18 and 24. Black students represent 2% of the population at UCs, 4% at CSUs, 7% at community colleges, and 6% at private non-profit colleges. According to the Campaign for College Opportunity, 89% of Black 19 year-olds graduate from high school but 35% are eligible to apply to a UC or CSU. Two-thirds of Black students enrolled in college but only one third finished with a degree.

These statistics are worrisome. The State of Higher Education for Black Californians suggest colleges and universities enhance their welcoming system by including more Black faculty and staff. Representation matters. The report suggests that California set statewide goals for Black students in high school and college. This way, our educational system can be held accountable for the achievement rates of our Black students. In addition, the report suggests a strategy be devised to assist in helping students return to college who started but did not finish. In the Black community reasons for not finishing are myriad and include but are not limited to, the need to work, the need to support family members, and lack of financial resources due to the rising costs of college. Of course, the financial aid process has to be improved as well as quality academic support administered for those in non credit classes at the community college level.

The report delivers good news in that the rate of Black high school students taking college preparatory courses has increased to 35% in 2017 from 27% in 2011.

Still the statistics show that Black students need an increase in support at the high school and college level. Support that we can provide by better engaging Black Sororities, fraternities, staff, faculty, community organizations, Black affinity groups at corporations, etc. It takes a village to raise a child. California has the village. We have to activate and sustain the number of groups that can come together to support our Black students in a culturally competent way.

Zaneta Smith coordinates operations of an African American civic engagement and public opinion research organization, the California Policy & Research Initiative. www.calpri.org

Zaneta J Smith

Written by

Coordinates operations of an African American civic engagement & public opinion research organization, the California Policy & Research Initiative. calpri.org

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