The Long Beach Promise: K-12 and Colleges Unite!

Dear Commons Community,

David L. Kirp, a public policy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times, that describes the Long Beach Promise, a collaborative program that guarantees high school graduates a tuition-free year at Long Beach City College.  Here is an excerpt:

“… In that predominantly immigrant city [Long Beach] south of Los Angeles, where a third of the children under age 17 live in poverty, the public schools have teamed up with the local community college and the state university to confront the impact of poverty, racial discrimination and limited educational opportunities.

The Long Beach College Promise guarantees high school graduates a tuition-free year at Long Beach City College. If they meet the minimum academic requirements, they’re assured admission to California State University, Long Beach, one of the country’s top regional schools.

This guarantee has been a game-changer for a city whose economy was battered by the closing of the naval base, the decimation of the local aerospace industry and, more recently, the Great Recession. Three-quarters of high school graduates now enroll in college, 10 percent above the national average. Many stay in Long Beach after earning a bachelor’s degree, improving the city’s economy. Early awareness, college preparedness, college access — it’s a strategy worth emulating.

Collaboration starts with 4-year-olds, as Mayor Robert Garcia has made universal preschool for disadvantaged children his top priority. Long Beach City College President Eloy Ortiz Oakley and Long Beach State President Jane Close Conoley have joined the mayor’s fund-raising drive. They understand the long-term value of early education. “We put up a picture of a preschool student,” Mr. Oakley has said. “Then I ask my staff, ‘What are we going to do today to ensure that in 2027 this student will be on the platform graduating?’”

All fourth and fifth graders, together with their parents, tour the local college campuses. “Most of our parents never thought college was a possibility for their kids,” the Long Beach school superintendent, Christopher Steinhauser, points out. “But those visits can change their minds.”

Every high school junior takes an early assessment exam, which few California districts require. Those who fare poorly get a rigorous dose of English and math, giving them the skills needed to satisfy the state universities’ admissions requirements. Going to college is increasingly on these students’ minds. Last spring they signed up for more than 10,000 advance placement exams, a two-year increase of more than 41 percent. This year’s graduates garnered $96 million in scholarships, $40 million more than in 2012.

Collaboration is ubiquitous, with about 200 joint ventures linking the public schools and colleges. Among these are high school courses in Mandarin and ethnic studies, designed by Long Beach State professors.

The university has demonstrated its commitment where it counts most — admission. With more than 56,000 applications, the eighth highest nationally, it could admit a class composed entirely of students with gleaming grade point averages to raise its national ranking. Instead, it keeps a seat for every eligible local applicant. Although they have high school G.P.A.s well below students from elsewhere, they are equally likely to graduate. The same holds true for Long Beach City College transfers, also favored in admissions. This locally focused strategy pays off — the overall graduation rate, 67 percent in six years, is 20 percent higher than that at comparable schools, and the 63 percent graduation rate for poor and minority students is 25 percent higher than at similar institutions.”

The Long Beach Promise is important for two reasons.  One, it illustrates what appears to be a successful partnership between K-12 and higher education.  Second, it may also suggest that the promise of free tuition is not enough but that there has to be a nurturing early on in child’s education to start the process of thinking about a higher education. A last night’s Democrat Party presidential nominee debate, the three candidates (Sanders, Clinton, and O’Malley) all promoted tuition or debt-free higher education.  This would be good policy if ever enacted but it may not be enough to guarantee admission and successful completion of a degree.  There needs to be a personal commitment and connection to achieving a higher education that starts in a child’s early years.  This might be the more important take-away in Long Beach.



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