California’s College Prep Debate Stalls Progress

By Guest Columnist Apr 27, 2007

by Menachem Krajcer Only one in four Black, Latino, Pacific Islander, and American Indian students in California are currently graduating with the classes they need to get into a four-year university. But for years, California legislators have made little to no progress in increasing access and removing roadblocks to college opportunity for low-income students of color. Part of the problem is an ongoing debate about the best way students can succeed. Policy makers have been divided into two camps: those who support college prep vs. career technical education–CTE. In the past, career technical education—formerly known as vocational education—was just a way of tracking students of color. These programs lacked rigor, secondary education opportunities, and often failed in preparing students for life after high school. Advocates for CTE assert that there has been too much focus on college preparation. That not every one is meant to go on to college—read kids of color—and that we need to prepare our youth to enter the trades. So what has changed? At the local level, parents and students have been mobilizing for college access. In a recent poll by the New America Media, 80% of parents of color say they want their kids to on to college. At the Capitol, there is an emerging conversation over multiple pathways. The general idea is that students, regardless of what pathway they choose, should receive a challenging education that leaves the college option open at graduation. This would mean a college preparatory pathway or a CTE pathway that also ensures students meet the eligibility requirements for university systems in California. The idea seems to be taking hold. Just last week, both Republicans and Democrats unanimously supported a pilot program to increase access to multiple pathways in low-performing high schools . Still, progress is stalled. While there is a growing interest in multiple pathways, everyone seems to be defining it differently. Take for example, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who said recently: "A four year college education is not the only pathway to success. In fact, many students are dropping out of high school because they say following a college bound path in school doesn’t interest them." And a group called the GET REAL Coalition has formed and demanded that we stop “forcing college preparation down their throats.” Sigh. As the debate continues to divide, everyone scrambles for crumbs during California’s budget process. Let’s just hope students of color aren’t left to clean up the mess…