By Cory Bilicko
Three years ago, local fourth graders, including those from low-income households and immigrant families, actually began thinking about what they might major in and where they might attend college. Posted outside classrooms of Long Beach schools were student-created projects that stated which institution of higher learning they hoped to attend and the year they would begin. Children were starting to discuss with their teachers, peers and parents what path would be necessary for them to graduate from high school and begin their college careers– an undertaking that had largely been, until that time, unprecedented.
It was in 2008 that the city’s three most prominent educational leaders committed themselves and their respective institutions to providing local students greater opportunities to pursue and complete their college education. With their “Long Beach College Promise,” California State University–Long Beach (CSULB) President F. King Alexander, Long Beach City College (LBCC) Superintendent-President Eloy Ortiz Oakley, and Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser entered into a collaboration to: increase the percentage of LBUSD students who are prepared for and attend college directly from high school; increase the percentage of LBCC students who earn degrees and/or career and technical certificates; increase the percentage of LBCC students who successfully transfer to CSULB or another four-year college or university; and increase the percentage of CSULB students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree and/or advanced degrees.
Also part of the program is a commitment to cover the cost of first-semester enrollment fees for each local high-school graduate who enrolls directly at LBCC after graduation. The LBCC Foundation has now established an endowment of more than $6 million to cover those fees.
Last Monday morning, Alexander, Oakley and Steinhauser hosted a “progress report” and celebration assembly at CSULB’s Walter Pyramid to share with the community the results measured and the challenges facing the college-readiness program.
“Today’s celebration is indeed the celebration of the third year of the Long Beach College Promise,” Alexander said. “What we have done is quite extraordinary and has not only been recognized by the Business-Higher Education Forum in Washington, DC, but has been recognized by many cities throughout the United States.”
Alexander told the educators, students, parents and supporters at the assembly that the Long Beach Promise is also being recognized by the Department of Education and the White House Initiative for Latino Excellence in Higher Education. “Juan Sepulveda, the secretary of Education, who’s coming to Tincher Elementary tomorrow, here in Long Beach, will also talk about the partnership of what can happen when three educational enterprises come together to work for the benefits of each and every one of our students,” Alexander said.
“Three years ago, when we decided to make this a major initiative, to inform all the parents in Long Beach of the importance of going to college, we had no idea this would lead to where it is today,” Alexander said. “Now we can say that college awareness among our parents in Long Beach has skyrocketed, through phone calls, through pledges that they’ve made. And I’m pleased to say, just on our campus alone in the last three years, we’ve gone from 1,093 admits, these are students who have been admitted to our university, to over 2,010. In fact, 2,013 have been admitted. We’ve nearly doubled our local access to our students. That’s happened at a time when we’ve received over 71,000 applications for fall admission. So these are ready students.” This statement brought applause from the assembly.
“I’m also very pleased to point out that college readiness, and students attending college [from] our Long Beach Unified School District, has gone up from 67 percent of those students going on to college to nearly 74 percent, just in the last three years alone,” Alexander said. “We know they need to go to college, and we know we have to help them finish what they started.”
He indicated that, although LBUSD may sometimes get overshadowed by the larger districts of Los Angeles and Orange County, the local school district has a higher enrollment than those in Detroit, Cleveland or Boston. “That’s how significant our school district is,” he said. “That’s the importance of the job the teachers are doing.” He praised the teachers and administrators in LBUSD for “getting our students college-ready and making sure that each and every child in this school district thinks they can go to college, knows they belong on a college campus, and is committed to finishing what they started. That’s why we’re all here today– to continue on this path that is turning out, showing the type of results that we’re presenting to you today.”
Alexander then introduced Steinhauser, who first recognized all the students and parents in the audience by asking them to stand. After applause subsided, he mentioned that he himself was also part of that group, since he had graduated from CSULB 30 years ago, after graduating from LBCC two years earlier.
“Like you, I thought college was a long way down the road, but it’s there for all of us,” Steinhauser said. “The reason I went to college was because of great teachers and parents who said ‘You can do this.’” He shared a statistic that is being attributed to the College Promise program– 74 percent of last year’s high-school graduates are in college today, and half of those are enrolled at either CSULB or LBCC. “In fact, 650 of our seniors are here in Cal State Long Beach as an increase of about 200 over the last couple of years,” he said. “And last year’s seniors walked away with $51 million in scholarships. That is unbelievable. When we were hitting $30 million, we thought that was high, then we hit $40 million and thought that was high.”
Steinhauser encouraged parents and students to seek out all the scholarships that are available. “Kids, go out for every scholarship,” he said. “There’s lots of money out there that never gets tapped.”
He then emphasized how participants in the College Promise program are not only helping to prepare students for college, they’re focusing on readying them for particular academic programs by ensuring they enroll in high-school courses that provide the fundamental learning needed to succeed when they get to college. Two years ago, LBUSD was awarded a million-dollar grant by the James Irvine Foundation to provide “link learning,” which helps students understand which subjects will prepare them for their targeted careers.
Steinhauser introduced Oakley, who emphasized the importance of reminding legislators in Sacramento that the decisions they make do indeed impact their citizens. “We have great employees, great teachers, great administrators who have dedicated themselves to public education, and we’re getting to the point where we cannot continue to employ them anymore,” Oakley said. “That impacts our students every day. So we need to continue to send the message to Sacramento that public education matters and we must continue to invest in public education.”
Oakley pointed out that Senate Bill 650, recently introduced by Senator Alan Lowenthal, needed the community’s support. The bill would enact the College Promise Partnership Act and authorize the LBCC District and the LBUSD to enter into a partnership, as specified, to provide participating students with an aligned sequence of rigorous high-school coursework leading to capstone college courses with consistent and jointly established eligibility for college courses.
Officials at Monday’s assembly also awarded 27 scholarships ranging from $50 to $250 to LBUSD eighth graders who have shown academic improvement.