In Long Beach, California, colleges deal with low retention rates by teaming up with local public schools to create qualified college candidates, David Kirp writes in the New York Times.
Graduating from high school is no guarantee that a student will succeed in college. More than two-thirds of high school graduates enroll, but almost two-thirds of those who make it to campus are not prepared for college-level courses.
Video: Minimizing first semester drop-out
Long Beach colleges partner with public high schools to help solve this problem—essentially creating their own qualified applicant pool for years to come. It's called the "Long Beach College Promise," and it's been revolutionary for students in the area, where a third of people under 17 live in poverty, Kirp says.
High school graduates in the area are guaranteed one cost-free year at Long Beach City College (LBCC). If they meet academic requirements, they will be admitted to California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), a top regional school in the nation.
Professors also design curriculum for high school students to introduce them to the rigor of college classes, and elementary school students tour the college campuses with their parents. "Most of our parents never thought college was a possibility for their kids," says Christopher Steinhauser, Long Beach Unified School District superintendent. "But those visits can change their minds."
By preparing local preschool-12 students for college, these higher ed institutions are ensuring a pipeline of qualified students coming onto their campus—and graduating—in the coming years. LBCC President Eloy Ortiz Oakley says, "I ask my staff, 'What are we going to do today to ensure that in 2027, [preschool students] will be on the platform graduating?"
Graduating at higher rates
Since this plan was implemented, three-quarters of Long Beach high school graduates now enroll in college, 10% above the national average. And once admitted, these students perform well academically.
In fact, 67% of the program's students graduate college in six years, which is 20% higher than the graduation rate at similar schools. The graduation rate for poor and minority students is 63%—a 25% increase over CSULB's peers.
But work remains, Kirp says. Many students in Long Beach's high schools are not qualified for state universities, and the community college graduation rate still needs to catch up to the state average, Kirp writes. But for a town with low job prospects and high poverty rates, this collaboration between public schools and higher ed institutions has made a huge difference in the lives of students who never thought college was an option, he says.
"What we do is surprisingly simple but amazingly powerful," says CSULB president Jane Close Conoley. "We communicate all the time. No turn. No bureaucracies. Just building and evaluating programs with the goal of removing barriers and supporting student success" (Kirp, New York Times, 11/14).
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