College eligibility is within their reach

Times Staff Writer

Tens of thousands of Los Angeles students could be on the brink of being qualified to apply to the state’s four-year universities, according to a report made public Monday.

The report’s authors asserted that huge numbers of students could, with the right advice and academic assistance, become bound for the University of California and Cal State University systems. The bad news is that, in too many cases, they aren’t getting this help.

In fact, a new software system that would, with a push of a button, provide a status report on a student’s college preparation is apparently languishing largely unused, said co-author Julie Mendoza, a University of California researcher who directs a state and privately funded program aimed at improving students’ academic performance.


The report is a snapshot of 20 high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District during the 2005-06 school year. Among graduates, 28% were no more than two courses short of UC/Cal State requirements. Among the schools’ total enrollment of 90,000 students in ninth through 12th grade, more than 35,000 were close.

High schools in the study included Banning, Bell, Dorsey, Garfield, Jefferson, Monroe and Roosevelt.

The research findings were announced at school district headquarters downtown by a coalition of community groups that gave L.A. Unified itself a poor progress report. More than two years ago, these same groups had successfully pushed the school system to make college preparatory classes a goal for every student.

School board President Monica Garcia said the district was aspiring to lead urban reform, but “our instruction department has to hear this information and has to embrace it.”

It’s not always the most advanced courses that students are missing. A more recent analysis at Crenshaw High School, by the same researchers, concluded that more than half its graduates were short in Visual and Performing Arts. Less than a third had taken this course -- meaning that nearly 70% of graduates were automatically ineligible to apply to a UC or Cal State school.

“Imagine if we were to target that specific population. . . . Many students are only half a course shy,” Mendoza said.

All the schools have access to the same software, through the state’s Transcript Evaluation Service, used by the report’s authors. It converts a student’s transcript into a college progress report, showing where they’ve met requirements and where they’re lacking. The program also calculates grade-point averages in college prep courses and compares them to what’s needed for UC, CSU and a state financial aid program.

Once set up, reports for every student in a school can be prepared in a few keystrokes, Mendoza said, less time than it would take a college counselor to compile the information manually for one student. But students may not be getting this information, she added.

L.A. Unified is providing some of the same information on a different document that it developed, said Assistant Supt. Esther Wong. And some schools may be using the evaluation service software. Nonetheless, “we don’t use it as effectively as we should be,” Wong said.

Part of the holdup has to do with training counselors, Mendoza and Wong said.

Counselor Lourdes Garcia-Meza said new state funding has allowed her school, Kennedy High in the San Fernando Valley, to devote two counselors specifically for ninth grade, as others have.

“Now that we have a freshman academy, you’re actually doing some counseling,” said Garcia-Meza, whose school was not part of the study.

She still oversees more than 500 students, down from more than 700. Separately, the school of 3,200 has one person assigned to college counseling. It doesn’t help that many students resist a rigorous schedule, she said.

“We’re dealing with apathy. Some of them don’t care about school,” she added.

At the Downtown Magnets High School, college counselor Lynda McGee said, “I’m considered lucky compared to most, with about 200 seniors. At some schools, the counselor probably couldn’t talk to you if she wanted to. In that case, you don’t counsel, you merely disburse forms.”

The difference for Sha’na Lewis, 17, a senior at Locke High in South Los Angeles, was extra guidance through a program offered by the nonprofit Fulfillment Fund, which works with groups of students at a handful of schools.

She arrived from Texas in 10th grade to confront “what can seem at times like a curriculum maze,” said Sha’na, who hopes to attend Pepperdine University. She would be a first-generation college graduate.

The study also looked at younger students’ progress toward meeting four-year college admission requirements. Ninth-graders, for example, are expected to earn a C or better in Algebra I, English and one other qualified course, such as a lab science, history or a foreign language. Here, the research concluded that 70% of Latino students and 71% of African Americans already were falling behind.

At this level, passing Algebra I and English proved significant hurdles. Students need four years of English; one failure already cuts them out of UC/CSU eligibility unless they make it up.

The ninth-grade fail rate for English is 26%. Likewise, students who don’t pass algebra by the end of 10th grade won’t reach the required higher math levels. In the year studied, 43% of students taking Algebra I were repeating the class.

Eligibility doesn’t guarantee admission to competitive UC and Cal State schools. The study didn’t review other factors, such as scores on college entrance exams.