Keeping Long Beach’s Promise

Long Beach Unified, Long Beach City College and Cal State University Long Beach are all straining under budget cuts. But today, the three will announce they will deepen their commitment to the Long Beach College Promise, a joint effort to encourage more students to enroll in college and to better prepare them to succeed in it.

Now entering its third year, the College Promise is a unique cooperative arrangement between a K-12 district and higher ed institutions. It’s a combination of financial rewards (a semester of free community college tuition) and admission preferences for Long Beach Unified students, college education classes for parents, and college preparation courses for Long Beach Unified seniors. Soon, it will include a new assessment of college readiness.

College Promise is based on the recognition that K-12 and higher ed must work together to increase college completion and reduce the need for remediation classes for college freshmen. Statewide, only 30 percent of students graduate with a two- or four-year degree after six years. Three-quarters of community college students and more than 50 percent of California State University students arrive on campus unprepared for college level math and/or English. Long Beach Unified’s ambitious goal, says Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser, is to reduce to zero the need for remediation – at least for those students headed to CSULB. Long Beach is the third largest district in California, with 86,000 students, 52 percent Latino and 16 percent African American.

California State University has created a college readiness exam – an addendum to the state standardized tests in English and math for high school juniors – called the Early Assessment Program (EAP). Those who pass are deemed college ready; those who don’t can take online remediation courses or CSU-designed English classes in those high schools that offer them. EAP and CSU’s outreach to high schools have been praised as a national model, but there are limitations. Only those juniors taking Algebra II – a requirement for CSU schools – take the math portion of the EAP. Also, the exam and extra courses have been voluntary, and there is no follow-up test for seniors to measure their progress before they arrive as college freshmen. (Starting in the summer of 2012, CSU will require non-proficient students to show they have started  remediation before enrolling at a CSU campus.)

CSULB, LBCC, and LB Unified are connecting the missing links. Steinhauser said that starting next year, all juniors will take the English portion of the EAP, regardless of whether they plan to attend a CSU school. One reason is that many of those who are going directly to LBCC plan to transfer to CSULB.

Students who don’t pass the EAP will be required to attend remediation classes as seniors, in place of an elective. They will then be given a new assessment that all three institutions are creating. Those who pass it (they will have three chances) will be exempt from taking entrance exams at LBCC. They also will get priority status for course enrollment at LBCC – a huge advantage for entering students at a time of cutbacks in offerings. Steinhauser hopes that CSULB eventually will accept the results of the assessment as well.

When they signed the Promise in March 2008, Steinhauser and the two college presidents, Eloy Oakley of LBCC and King Alexander of CSULB, agreed that students would receive a free first semester at LBCC, and that those with the minimum CSU requirements would be guaranteed admission at CSULB. The community began fundraising immediately. Last year, 500 students took advantage of the free semester, worth about $400; next year, the offer will be extended to all who attend – probably about 1,800 freshmen from Long Beach Unified. Many might qualify for a fee waiver anyway, but many will benefit, Steinhauser said.

Other elements of the Promise include a four-week course for high school parents on how to prepare their kids for college, as well as field trips to college campuses for elementary students (LBCC for fourth graders, CSULB for fifth graders, and, starting next year for sixth graders, trips to private colleges like the University of Southern California and to University of California campuses). In addition, LBCC and CSULB have been working with LB Unified teachers on improving algebra instruction.

It’s too early for definitive results, but early results are promising.

  • The percentage of LB Unified graduates going on to higher education rose from 68 percent in 2007 to 74 percent in 2009, Steinhauser said.
  • Of 5,600 graduates last June, 1,800 – about a third – enrolled in LBCC.
  • Two thirds of LB Unified grads from the Class of 2008 remained enrolled at LBCC a year later – a retention rate twice the average for students from other high schools attending LBCC.
  • CSULB enrolled 650 LB Unified graduates this year, compared with 450 the year before. Notwithstanding the admission guarantee, Steinhauser said that Long Beach Unified freshmen enter with an above-average grade point average. Hispanics comprised the largest group.

Steinhauser grew up in Long Beach and graduated from both LBCC and CSULB; his wife and his son teach in the district. The long-term hope of all three presidents is to strengthen Long Beach’s workforce by enticing its talented native sons and daughters to stick closer to home.

Author: John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (www.TOPed.org), one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

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