Fin­ish­ing what they started

Cam­puses are en­tic­ing black adults with some col­lege, but no de­gree, to reen­roll

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - CARLA RIVERA carla.rivera@la­ Twit­ter: @car­lar­iver­alat

Earn­ing a col­lege de­gree has eluded Ida Marie Briggs for nearly 40 years.

Grow­ing up the el­dest of seven in a poor New Jer­sey house­hold, she wasn’t able to ac­cept a schol­ar­ship at a lo­cal uni­ver­sity be­cause of fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Out on her own, she went to work, re­lo­cated to Cal­i­for­nia and raised two chil­dren.

There were fits and starts over the decades: She en­rolled in com­mu­nity col­lege, at­tended a fash­ion and de­sign school, and a San Fer­nando Val­ley busi­ness col­lege that lost ac­cred­i­ta­tion and cost Briggs time and money.

Her ex­pe­ri­ence mir­rors that of a pop­u­la­tion be­gin­ning to re­ceive more at­ten­tion from aca­demic ex­perts and col­leges them­selves: African Amer­i­cans who have some col­lege train­ing but never made it to grad­u­a­tion. Their chal­lenges are im­por­tant be­cause many would likely fill higher-wage jobs if they at­tained a de­gree.

In Cal­i­for­nia and around the na­tion, cam­pus-based pro­grams have sprung up to coax many of th­ese adults to reen­ter col­lege. Th­ese ef­forts, how­ever, face a num­ber of hur­dles, in­clud­ing a lack of aware­ness that a de­gree may be within reach, limited fi­nan­cial re­sources and in­ad­e­quate out­reach and sup­port ser­vices, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port by the non­profit Cam­paign for Col­lege Op­por­tu­nity.

About a third of black adults in Cal­i­for­nia — 385,250 — have some col­lege ed­u­ca­tion but no de­gree, the high­est rate of any racial or eth­nic group, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. Over­all, about 4.5 mil­lion Cal­i­for­nia adults never com­pleted their stud­ies.

There is no statewide strat­egy to help those who want to re­turn to school, nor ad­e­quate fund­ing for pro­grams, said Michele Siqueiros, pres­i­dent of the ad­vo­cacy group.

“The num­bers are pretty stunning,” Siqueiros said. “We should be in­cen­tiviz­ing adults in­ter­ested in fin­ish­ing and earn­ing those de­grees to come back. Not all will, but this is low-hang­ing fruit. Grow­ing ca­pac­ity, though, is go­ing to re­quire ad­di­tional fund­ing from the state.”

Un­der bud­get pro­pos­als by Gov. Jerry Brown, state fund­ing for the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Cal State and com­mu­nity col­leges has in­creased this year. The 2015-16 plan calls for the three higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems to ease trans­fer poli­cies, boost ba­sic skills in­struc­tion and im­prove grad­u­a­tion rates — par­tic­u­larly for low-in­come and mi­nor­ity stu­dents.

Many of those goals may help re-en­try stu­dents, but no spe­cific funds are tar­geted to that group. And both UC and Cal State of­fi­cials have com­plained that the bud­get plan doesn’t pro­vide fund­ing needed to in­crease en­roll­ment.

The prob­lems are not con­fined to Cal­i­for­nia.

Na­tion­ally, en­roll­ment of older, non­tra­di­tional stu­dents (adults 25 and over) is ex­pected to grow more than twice as fast as for younger stu­dents in com­ing years, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port by the Cen­ter for Law and So­cial Pol­icy.

But many fi­nan­cial aid and trans­fer poli­cies are not keep­ing pace.

A sur­vey of the na­tion’s largest state-funded fi­nan­cial aid pro­grams by the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion of the States found that 33 of them link el­i­gi­bil­ity to the SAT and other col­lege en­trance ex­ams, high school GPAs or other mea­sures geared to­ward re­cent grad­u­ates.

Many pro­grams fund only full-time stu­dents, leav­ing out adults who may need to at­tend part time.

In Cal­i­for­nia, the avail­abil­ity of Cal Grants dips steeply for stu­dents who don’t ap­ply within a year of grad­u­at­ing from high school, ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute for Col­lege Ac­cess & Suc­cess.

Ad­di­tion­ally, many col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties may not ac­cept cred­its pre­vi­ously earned at other in­sti­tu­tions, through on­line pro­grams or for mil­i­tary train­ing or work ex­pe­ri­ence and may re­quire stu­dents to take pre-col­lege cour­ses. Such poli­cies could have a dis­pro­por­tion­ate im­pact on African Amer­i­cans, who typ­i­cally are heav­ily re­cruited by for-profit in­sti­tu­tions and may end up with huge debt.

Many ex­perts be­lieve that the role of adult reen­try stu­dents may loom large in ef­forts to sub­stan­tially in­crease the ranks of de­gree hold­ers needed to bol­ster the na­tion’s work­force and econ­omy, an agenda be­ing pressed by Pres­i­dent Obama and non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Lu­mina Foun­da­tion.

“Un­for­tu­nately, this group is not at the top of any­body’s pri­or­ity,” said Christina Sed­ney, project co­or­di­na­tor for the Adult Col­lege Com­ple­tion Net­work.

Some states, such as Ge­or­gia and Texas, are mov­ing to co­or­di­nate reen­try pro­grams with flex­i­ble sched­ules and schol­ar­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties in­volv­ing sev­eral par­tic­i­pat­ing uni- ver­si­ties. Cal­i­for­nia’s public col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties need to move equally ag­gres­sively, said Hans John­son, a se­nior fel­low at the Public Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia.

“We need to think of ways to make com­ing back as ef­fi­cient as pos­si­ble for non­tra­di­tional stu­dents,” John­son said.

“Both UC and CSU are in­creas­ingly of­fer­ing more on­line cour­ses, and that will help. All of th­ese are in­cre­men­tal changes but in­cre­men­tal changes in the right di­rec­tion and nec­es­sary to help close some of those gaps.”

A pro­gram at UC Berke­ley in­cludes a course that helps re-en­ter­ing stu­dents connect with each other. Many are low-in­come, un­der­rep­re­sented stu­dents who’ve had lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence at a com­pet­i­tive re­searchori­ented in­sti­tu­tion such as Cal, said Ron Wil­liams, direc­tor of Re-en­try Stu­dent and Vet­eran Ser­vices at the cam­pus.

Their life ex­pe­ri­ences and ma­tu­rity may even be a “sell­ing point” in the com­pet­i­tive ad­mis­sions process, he said, adding that “it does set them apart from other ap­pli­cants.”

Cal State Long Beach is ac­tively re­cruit­ing African Amer­i­cans to com­plete their de­grees, with coun­sel­ing, aca­demic sup­port and help with fi­nan­cial aid, said Bruce Van­cil, as­sis­tant direc­tor for trans­fer and re-en­try ser­vices.

Briggs at­tended a re­cent lun­cheon meet­ing of the African Amer­i­can ini­tia­tive in Long Beach, which landed her in Van­cil’s of­fice to de­ter­mine her prospects and whether her pre­vi­ous cred­its can be trans­ferred.

At 58, she hopes to en­roll at the Long Beach cam­pus in the fall, determined to earn a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in psy­chol­ogy.

Be­ing un­able to com­plete her ed­u­ca­tion af­ter high school had al­ways been a big re­gret, Briggs said.

“Now I un­der­stand that I got ac­cepted once and can get ac­cepted again,” she said.

Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

AT 58, Ida Marie Briggs is about to re-en­ter col­lege at Cal State Long Beach, determined to earn her bach­e­lor’s de­gree in psy­chol­ogy.

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