Meredith Phillips, chair of undergraduate affairs at UCLA Luskin, has received an inaugural Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research. Phillips will use the $10,000 grant to develop a new undergraduate course that will bring students and local organizations into a research partnership for the benefit of the wider community. Titled “Making Data Useful for Educational Improvement,” Phillips’ course will equip students to analyze student and staff survey data from elementary, middle and high schools, and present those data to educators and administrators who are seeking to improve their schools. “Community-engaged research creates outstanding learning opportunities for undergraduate students, advances the research of our faculty and benefits our community,” Chancellor Gene Block said in announcing the six faculty recipients of the new award, which is co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for Community Learning. In the coming year, the award recipients will work together to establish guidelines for elevating the learning experience for undergraduates. Their courses, which will be offered in the 2020-21 or 2021-22 academic years, will cover a range of issues, including minority communities, health disparities, environmental justice and education. “This award recognizes faculty for their community-engaged research efforts and at the same time creates a new set of community-engaged course offerings for undergraduates,” said Phillips, associate professor of public policy and sociology. “This first set of courses is just the beginning of what I expect will eventually be an extensive suite of courses, across a wide range of disciplines, that will connect UCLA students’ research training with the needs of our local community.”
Local high school students spend the day with UCLA Luskin undergraduate students and staff. Photo by Mary Braswell
Fifty students from four local high schools spent a day with UCLA Luskin undergrads to hear how they can use a college education to improve their own communities. The May 23 visit was organized in conjunction with Gear Up 4 LA, a federally funded program to put underserved students on the road to college. The visiting 10th- and 11th-graders came from four schools: Bernstein High in Hollywood, STEM Academy of Hollywood, West Adams Preparatory High in Pico-Union and Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Koreatown. Students and staff from the Luskin School’s undergraduate program led the visitors on a campus tour and answered questions about UCLA and its new Public Affairs major. They also guided group discussions about what unites and divides the visitors’ communities. The alumni host for the day was Kevin Johnson MURP ’17 of Alta Planning + Design, which sponsored the visit.
View photos from the visit on Flickr.
Public Affairs Chair Meredith Phillips fields questions from undergraduates at the UCLA Luskin undergraduate forum. Photo by Stan Paul
UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura responded to questions and concerns raised by Public Affairs pre-majors at this year’s Annual Undergraduate Forum held Wednesday, May 22. Chair Meredith Phillips and the Public Affairs staff were also on hand to answer questions. Prior to the event, the team conducted a survey to gather feedback from pre-major students about their experience. The undergraduates expressed appreciation for the interdisciplinary nature of the major, the close-knit environment and staff enthusiasm, and raised some concerns about curricular coordination, enrollment issues and reciprocal agreements on course requirements between UCLA Luskin and the College of Letters and Sciences. Segura addressed the issues raised in the undergraduate survey and fielded questions from students in attendance about upper-division courses and the experiential capstone projects that Public Affairs majors will complete in their senior year. The undergraduate major in Public Affairs was launched in fall 2018. As its first year comes to a close, the staff thanked students for their patience as they finalize the nuts and bolts of the program. The entire university has responded to the creation of the Public Affairs major, they noted, adding that UCLA Luskin staff are engaged in an ongoing dialogue with other programs, including the Honors College and Academic Advancement Program, as they smooth out the details of the major. Students collectively expressed appreciation for the undergraduate program’s responsiveness to their feedback. — Zoe Day
View a Flickr album of images from the Annual Undergraduate Forum.
Dean Gary Segura and key members of the UCLA Luskin leadership team fielded questions from graduate students at an informal Town Hall on March 14, 2019. Joining Segura and his staff were Public Policy chair JR DeShazo, Social Welfare chair Laura Abrams, Urban Planning professor Chris Tilly and Undergraduate Affairs chair Meredith Phillips. Students submitted questions in advance and from the floor, and the dialogue touched on diversity in admissions and hiring, space issues in the Public Affairs building, teaching assistantships and other financial support, and opportunities to connect UCLA Luskin graduate and undergraduate students, among other topics. As the Town Hall coincided with Pi Day, members of the Association of Masters of Public Policy Students served pie to those present. A separate Town Hall for undergraduate students is planned for the spring quarter.
View a Flickr album of images from the Town Hall.
Undergraduate Affairs Chair Meredith Phillips, right, fields questions from students interested in UCLA Luskin’s new Public Affairs pre-major at an open house during the first week of school. Photo by Les Dunseith
By Mary Braswell
The rising excitement over UCLA Luskin’s new undergraduate program increased by at least a hundredfold as the first prospective Public Affairs majors stepped onto campus this fall.
Just weeks into the fall quarter, more than 100 students had formally opted in and dozens more had reached out to hear about the ambitious program, which combines critical thinking, social science methodology and deep engagement in the community.
In a year when young people are leading the charge for gun reform, transgender rights, climate change and more, the new major provides an avenue for activism.
“There will certainly be an infusion of energy that only undergraduates can bring,” said Dean Gary Segura.
Freshman Callie Nance was immediately attracted to the public service ethos at the heart of the major.
“I was undecided and feeling a little anxious about that, so I looked through all the majors on the UCLA website. When I came across Public Affairs, I realized it hit all of my passions,” said Nance, who spent time in high school working to create educational and employment opportunities for young people.
“This major doesn’t just expand knowledge,” she said. “It shows us how to do something with that knowledge, to make an impact.”
That sentiment is reflected in the undergraduate program’s motto: Developing Leaders Engaged in Social Change.
“Our students are developing knowledge and skills in the service of solving society’s most pressing problems, which is really what distinguishes this major from others,” said Undergraduate Affairs Chair Meredith Phillips, who is also an associate professor of public policy and sociology.
No other campus in the UC system offers a Public Affairs bachelor’s degree that draws from the three fields UCLA Luskin is known for: public policy, social welfare and urban planning.
This partnership has created an infectious energy that was on display during an undergraduate open house during the first week of school. Phillips led the welcoming committee, along with more than 20 faculty from across the School and Dean Segura, who noted that he too will teach an undergrad course this year, Foundations and Debates in Public Thought.
The event offered a glimpse of the resources available to students pursuing the B.A. in Public Affairs. Freshmen and sophomores freely mingled with professors who teach graduate-level courses and conduct cutting-edge research. And the undergraduate staff, who came together this summer to ensure the major was launched without a hitch, was out in force to answer questions and offer encouragement.
The networking continued the following evening at the Schoolwide Block Party, where the entire UCLA Luskin family — students, faculty, staff and alumni — came out to celebrate the new academic year.
“It was a good chance to talk to some alumni, to see what they are currently doing,” said freshman Navkaran Gurm, whose interests lie in law, politics, economics and public service.
Over the summer, another alumni connection led Gurm to the new major. He had enrolled in a Fresno City College economics class taught by Nelson Esparza MPP ’15, and ended up volunteering for Esparza’s campaign for Fresno City Council.
In the classroom and on the trail, Gurm spent hours talking to Esparza, who urged him to take a look at the Luskin School’s new bachelor’s degree. Gurm was sold. He plans to double-major in Economics and Public Affairs, with an eye toward attending law school.
“What I saw in the Public Affairs major was a way to show us how to make the world a better place, and that was something that really appealed to me,” said Gurm, who is keenly interested in battling disparities that put youth in rural communities, like his hometown, at a disadvantage.
A poll ahead of the November 2018 midterm elections found a remarkable level of civic engagement among young Californians. They talk politics, volunteer and allow political values to guide their purchases, the survey of 16- to 24-year-olds found. A full 80 percent said they considered themselves part of a social movement, according to the poll funded by the California Endowment.
Rising student demand led to creation of the Public Affairs major, which UCLA Luskin faculty unanimously endorsed in 2017. The university’s Academic Senate gave final approval in April 2018, and the first cohort was recruited over the summer.
Ricardo Aguilera switched to the pre-major as soon as it was announced. “For me, it was right on, concentrating on social advocacy within the community and just giving back,” he said.
Aguilera is one of several dozen sophomores who are working closely with the undergraduate staff to complete pre-major requirements in a single year. The School also continues to offer undergraduate minors in Public Affairs, Gerontology and Urban and Regional Studies.
Aguilera, Nance and Gurm have been struck by the personalized attention they receive in the relatively small Public Affairs program. Weekly emails share information about jobs, internships and campuswide events, and keep the cohort connected, they said.
Gurm said he attended informational sessions for other majors where students clamored to get their questions answered. At the Public Affairs workshop, “there were four of us and Brent, and it was as if we were having a one-on-one conversation,” he said, referring to undergraduate advisor Brent Showerman, who explained both the vision and the requirements of the program.
“I really like that whole support system, the feeling that they are guiding us in the right direction,” he said.
UCLA Luskin’s just-launched undergraduate program is off to an exciting start. A month into the new academic year, 90 students have declared public affairs as a pre-major, and dozens more have reached out. The ambitious program combines critical thinking, social science methodology and deep engagement in the community. Freshman Callie Nance was immediately attracted to the public service ethos at the heart of the major. “This major doesn’t just expand knowledge,” she said. “It shows us how to do something with that knowledge, to make an impact.” That sentiment is reflected in the undergraduate program’s motto: Developing Leaders Engaged in Social Change. “Our students are developing knowledge and skills in the service of solving society’s most pressing problems, which is really what distinguishes this major from others,” said Undergraduate Affairs Chair Meredith Phillips, who is also an associate professor of public policy and sociology. The energy surrounding the major was on display during an undergraduate open house during the first week of school. Phillips led the welcoming committee, along with more than 20 faculty from across the School and Dean Gary Segura, who noted that he too will teach an undergraduate course this year, Foundations and Debates in Public Thought. The event offered a glimpse of the resources available to students pursuing the B.A. in Public Affairs. Freshman and sophomores freely mingled with professors who teach graduate-level courses and conduct cutting-edge research. And the undergraduate staff, who came together this summer to ensure the major was launched without a hitch, was out in force to answer questions and offer encouragement.
View more photos from the Undergraduate Open House.
At the end of their second year, MPP candidates present their Applied Policy Projects to a gathering of professors and peers. Photo by Mary Braswell
By Mary Braswell
It’s a year’s worth of exacting work, whittled down to a 20-minute talk.
And for some, it’s over in a flash.
“We were all talking about it afterward. ‘That was 20 minutes? It felt like five minutes!’ ” Ramandeep Kaur said of her team’s Applied Policy Project presentation, a rite of passage for all Luskin School MPP candidates.
Kaur’s team was one of 13 to stand before a packed lecture hall over three evenings in May. Each succinctly presented a policy issue, reviewed their research, made a case for the wisest course of action — then fielded a barrage of questions from their peers and professors. They also produced polished reports laying out their findings in detail.
In short, they were using skills each will need as they leave UCLA Luskin and put their master’s degrees to work.
“These Applied Policy Projects are extremely beneficial to our MPP students as they are an opportunity to put all of their policy analysis skills to work in a real-world setting,” Public Policy Vice Chair Manisha Shah said.
“In their first year, students learn so many of the tools necessary to do policy analysis, and then in their second year, they get to implement these tools in the APP,” Shah said. “The final product is an important piece of policy analysis on topics ranging from health to housing to the environment to social justice issues … and the list goes on.”
This year’s APP teams conducted rigorous research on issues near and far — from the drinkability of Los Angeles tap water to human rights abuses in Europe.
Some of the teams formed a year in advance, as students with similar interests and complementary skill sets banded together. Knowing they would work on the APP during their entire second year, they chose topics close to their hearts.
“I knew I wanted to do a project I was passionate about, a project that had an advocacy lens on it,” Kaur said.
Teammate Annia Yoshizumi had worked with the UCLA Luskin-based Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) and suggested pursuing a project on housing. Allan Nguyen and Xiaoyue Zheng brought strong data analysis skills to the team, Kaur said.
Their research on the impact of drastic rent increases in unincorporated L.A. County benefited two clients, CNK and the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action.
“For me personally, I did grow up in L.A., and my parents did live in a rent-controlled apartment, and they were able to then save a lot of money and purchase a house,” Kaur said. “But that’s not an opportunity that many people have. So how do you tell that story so that people understand?”
Another team focused on preserving undocumented patients’ access to healthcare in a time of anti-immigrant rhetoric. Two of the team’s members are earning concurrent MPP and M.D. degrees through UCLA’s Prime Program, including Joe Torres, who was undocumented himself until he became a U.S. citizen in 2016.
Working with Venice Family Clinic, which has provided medical care to vulnerable populations in West Los Angeles for nearly 50 years, the team paired data analysis with extensive surveys in English and Spanish. Among the findings: In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, 64 percent reported more fear or anxiety about ICE raids specifically at clinics, and 39 percent felt less safe taking their U.S. citizen children to the doctor.
To maintain the trust of its patients, Venice Family Clinic should step up the security of its patient records and forge partnerships with legal advocates in the community, the team recommended.
This year’s APP clients were a diverse lot, including the Partnership for L.A. Schools, the Clean Power Alliance, the European Implementation Network, an administrative judge for the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission and several local government entities.
One team that shared an interest in international development took on the World Bank as a client. Their focus was assessing financial incentives for hospitals in the Kyrgyz Republic to improve infant and maternal mortality rates.
Key to the project were interviews conducted with agencies on the ground, team member Tanya Honey said.
“That’s the thing I love to do — I love doing outreach,” said Honey, who spent hours on international calls with the World Health Organization, United Nations and USAID. She credits faculty advisor Wes Yin with pushing the team to use these conversations with experts to provide context to their data.
“I think that was extremely valuable to our project,” Honey said, adding, “I’ve never heard so many Russian accents!” With a bachelor’s degree in linguistics, Honey speaks Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, Hindu and English, but “not Russian — yet.”
To prepare for their APP presentation, Honey’s team recruited students from the Luskin School’s third-floor Commons to serve as a mock audience.
“We were definitely a little bit nervous,” she said, but fortunately her team had substantial experience in public speaking. Teammate Parshan Khosravi is an officer and advocate with the Graduate Students Association, and others have taught classes as teacher’s aides or presented papers at symposiums.
Another APP tradition also helped calm nerves: dressing like you mean business. “I actually feel more confident when I dress up,” Honey said.
Following each APP presentation is a question and answer period that can be daunting. While everyone in the audience is supportive of the presenters, many are also experts in their fields and can readily spot holes in data, assumptions and methodology.
Kaur’s team knew that its main policy recommendation — a rent stabilization ordinance — was controversial.
“A lot of economists do not like RSOs, so we knew we were going to be hit with a lot of questions about that,” she said.
But her team was confident in their analysis and ready for any challenge they might face.
“We did a mock presentation in front of both of our clients, and had them ask us really hard questions that they get in the field when they talk about any sort of tenant protection policy,” she said. “So that really prepped us.”
Also important to Kaur’s team was putting a human face on their policy analysis. They included tenants’ voices because “we really wanted to frame it in a way that people understood who this policy was going to impact.”
Faculty advisors for this year’s APP teams were Shah, Yin, Meredith Phillips and John Villasenor. “What’s great about the experience is that, while it is a real-world experience, it is also a guided experience in that each group is assigned to a Public Policy professor who advises them through the entire process,” Shah said.
This year, three APP projects were singled out for special recognition:
- Highest honors: Reducing Delay to Promote Civil Rights: How Administrative Judges at the EEOC Can Resolve Employment Discrimination Complaints in a Fair Yet Efficient Manner (Delvin Turner, Elizabeth Joun, David Lyons)
- Honors: Social Determinants of Health Literacy: Optimizing Public Health Outreach and Education Strategies in Long Beach, California (Stephanie Berger, Marisa Conner, Alexander Fung, Taylor Wyatt)
- Honors: LA TAP (Tap Water Action Plan): Evaluating the Customer Experience of Tap Water in Los Angeles (Virdiana Auger-Velez, Rachel Lacoe, Caleb Rabinowitz, Bei Zhao)
Find more photos from the 2018 Applied Policy Project presentations on Flickr
The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has, in recent years, more finely honed our mission — to one that creates positive changes for individuals, communities, polities, ecosystems and the world through improved governance, equitable policies, sustainable planning and the facilitation of healthy individuals and families. As you will read in this issue, a big part of that mission is to address the needs and aspirations for a better quality of life among people of color and other marginalized populations who, collectively, comprise a majority of Angelenos and Californians.
The time has come for UCLA Luskin to take the next step in our efforts to create change-makers. As part of that effort, I am happy to announce the final approval and launch of the Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs at the Luskin School. By a vote of 58-1 on February 15, the Academic Senate authorized the School to launch our major, which, at full enrollment, will provide training to 600 total majors across the four years.
The Public Affairs major is an interdisciplinary social science degree that combines rigorous analytical and research methods training with deep theoretical immersion in social, psychological, economic and political theories of social change. Students will be trained to ask and answer tough questions regarding how society copes with socioeconomic inequality, democratic access, economic development, and infrastructure, capped off with a yearlong immersion in a field placement and research project, applying these insights in a real-world environment.
We envision a curriculum built around the same guiding principles that inform our graduate and professional programs: that the tools of social science, properly applied, can help us identify and address some of society’s most vexing problems. Students will be able to take these degrees straight to the job market in civic and governmental organizations, business and nonprofit sectors, or go on to graduate and professional training in a cognate field.
Associate Professor Meredith Phillips of the Department of Public Policy will serve as the inaugural Chair of the program, the development of which is owed to all three departments and a core of thoughtful faculty committed to new and socially relevant undergraduate social science.
In the coming years, we will keep you informed as to the progress and growth of the degree program, which should graduate its first seniors in June of 2021!
In the meantime, rest assured that the nationally ranked professional and doctoral programs will extend their tradition of excellence, diversity and impact.
— Gary M. Segura
Professor and Dean
UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
The Dean’s Message also appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of Luskin Forum magazine.
Meredith Phillips, associate professor of public policy and sociology, is chair of the Luskin School's new undergraduate program in Public Affairs.
By Mary Braswell
The Luskin School’s world-class resources in public policy, social welfare and urban planning will soon be available to a much wider circle of UCLA students.
Beginning in the fall of 2018, the School will offer a Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs, a major that is unique in the University of California system. A clear public service ethos lies at the heart of the program, which combines critical thinking, social science methodology and deep engagement in the community.
The major will connect the dots between theory and action, said Meredith Phillips, newly named chair of the undergraduate program. Phillips is an associate professor of public policy and sociology who has taught at UCLA for two decades.
“Every class will be focused on societal problems, issues that students care about, and how we can develop reasonable solutions,” Phillips said. “In our classes, we’ll discuss competing values, empirical data and evidence, and different conceptual frameworks for understanding the world. Our students will be developing skills in the service of solving problems, which is really what distinguishes this major from others.”
The impetus for the new program is simple, said UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura: “It’s part of our mission.
“This is a land-grant university that was created to serve the public, to serve California,” Segura said. The program, he said, will attract students “who wanted to come to a prestige institution and take that degree back to the communities they came from and create change there.”
“We hope to play a great role in the community service learning opportunities for undergraduates because we already have a lot of experience … with community-based organizations.”
— Laura Abrams,
Social Welfare chair
The B.A. in Public Affairs will provide a wide-ranging education, Phillips said. Students will delve into power politics, microeconomics and human development. They will look at competing social science theories with a critical eye, and master tools for collecting and analyzing data. And they will learn to make written and oral arguments with clarity and conviction.
Unique to the program, she said, is a yearlong capstone project that will immerse seniors in a field and research setting where they can apply their scholarship in the real world.
“The students will be embedded in these organizations, learning from staff and clients about what’s going well, what’s not, and thinking about how to do things even better,” said Phillips, who has co-founded two educational nonprofits.
“They will apply the skills they’ve learned in our classes to those experiences. And what they’re learning on the ground will undoubtedly turn out to be quite informative and will change how they think about what they’re learning in the classroom,” she said.
The emphasis on service learning is what drew UCLA freshman Leyla Solis to explore the Public Affairs B.A.
“All throughout high school, I did a lot of field work in areas I was passionate about,” said Solis, who attended a Northeast Los Angeles charter school that encouraged political engagement. Before coming to UCLA, Solis advocated at the United Nations for the rights of indigenous people, and developed a keen interest in effective governance and environmental law.
A political science major, Solis had been considering the Luskin School’s minor offerings and even looking ahead to a graduate degree. Now she is mulling whether to go for a double major.
“What the people in the Public Affairs Department are doing is not just studying it but going out and experiencing it firsthand,” said Solis, who mentors students from her charter school and tutors low-income children at Santa Monica’s Virginia Avenue Park.
“This is a real opportunity for us to give back to the undergraduate community, to include them in our mission as a school to improve the performance of government and nonprofits.”
— J.R. DeShazo,
Public Policy chair
No other campus in the UC system offers a public affairs bachelor’s degree that draws from the three fields UCLA Luskin is known for: public policy, social welfare and urban planning. Faculty from each department were instrumental in developing the major, making it a true multidisciplinary partnership, Phillips said.
Creation of the major had been in the works for several years, in response to rising student demand. The Luskin School’s current undergraduate courses draw around 1,500 students a year, and its minor programs are among the most popular at UCLA, said the School’s undergraduate advisor, Stan Paul.
Last year, UCLA Luskin faculty voted unanimously to proceed with the undergraduate major. Jocelyn Guihama MPP ’03, deputy director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, helped turn this aspiration into reality, shepherding the effort through every stage. UCLA’s Academic Senate gave final approval on April 19, 2018, and the first of an expected 600 students will enter the major this fall, though many more are expected to take courses offered as part of the major.
The creation of an undergraduate major at a UCLA professional school is a rare occurrence, Segura said. “It represents a substantial addition to the undergraduate offerings at UCLA, and we think it’s going to be broadly attractive to a whole swath of incoming young people,” he said.
The B.A. in Public Affairs is just one sign of “a new infusion of energy” under Segura, said Meyer Luskin, who, along with his wife, Renee, is the School’s major benefactor and namesake. “I think he’s going to do a lot of outstanding projects for the community and the School, and I’m very enthused about our future.”
“I expect so much energy and commitment coming from our students in the undergrad major. That is going to have tremendous ripple effects in what we teach in our graduate programs.”
— Vinit Mukhija,
Urban Planning chair
The new major comes at a time when a growing number of students are seeking the scholarship and training to effect social change.
“These young people are not simply resisting political and social forces with which they disagree — they’re also resisting knowledge-free policymaking,” Segura said of the spreading youth movement on such issues as gun violence, Black Lives Matter and immigration reform.
“They want to be informed by facts. What we do at Luskin is provide them with the infrastructure to think analytically, with enough training so that they can solve the problems they’ve identified as important to their generation,” he said.
Creation of the major greatly expands undergraduate access to UCLA Luskin’s faculty and resources, and it will also benefit the entire School, Segura said.
“There will certainly be an infusion of energy that only undergraduates can bring. All of a sudden we’re going to have 600 change agents running around the building who are youthful and energized,” Segura said.
In addition, the hiring of new faculty members to support the expansion of class offerings has also opened up avenues for graduate research, he said, and master’s and Ph.D. students in UCLA Luskin’s other degree programs will gain access to teaching assistantships and other leadership roles.
“I think from a scholarly perspective, from a resources perspective, from an experience perspective, it’s a big, big win for the School,” Segura said.
The research shows that 70 percent of high school graduates enrolled in either two- or four-year colleges, but only 25 percent of graduates went on to earn a college degree within six years. Photo by L.A. Unified
By George Foulsham
In the first comprehensive analysis of college enrollment of Los Angeles Unified School District graduates, UCLA and Claremont Graduate University researchers show that 70 percent of high school graduates enrolled in either two- or four-year colleges, but only 25 percent of graduates went on to earn a college degree within six years.
A separate, parallel study that focused on college readiness revealed that while over 75 percent of high school counselors say they have adequate information to help students complete college and financial aid applications, less than half (42 percent) said they have enough time to provide students with the assistance they need.
Both studies were co-directed by Meredith Phillips, associate professor of public policy and sociology at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Kyo Yamashiro, associate professor of education at Claremont Graduate University. Carrie Miller, a doctoral candidate at UCLA, co-authored the report on college readiness supports; Thomas Jacobson, a Luskin Master of Public Policy graduate and incoming doctoral student at UCLA, co-authored the report on college enrollment. Phillips, Yamashiro, Miller and Jacobson are all research collaborators with the Los Angeles Education Research Institute (LAERI), a nonprofit research organization engaged in a research-practice partnership with L.A. Unified. The studies were funded by a grant from the College Futures Foundation to UCLA and LAERI.
“In the first report, we analyze data on college enrollment, persistence and completion from the National Student Clearinghouse and L.A. Unified data on students’ high school performance, and ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, to provide the first detailed description of graduates’ postsecondary outcomes,” Phillips said. “In the second report, we examine the prevalence of college readiness supports throughout the school district. We hope these reports, taken together, contribute to a broader conversation about preparing L.A. Unified students for their post-secondary options and how the Los Angeles community can work together to ensure that more students enroll in college and complete a four-year degree.”
The analysis examines college-going outcomes for district graduates who had passed critical milestones for enrollment within one year (class of 2014), persistence into a second year (class of 2013), and completion within six years (class of 2008).
Among the key findings:
- Seventy percent of 2014 L.A. Unified students enrolled in college within one year of high school graduation; college enrollment rates were similar for the classes of 2008 and 2013.
- Most college attendees persisted into a second year of college.
- However, only 25 percent of 2008 graduates had earned a college degree within six years of high school graduation (by 2014). More than two-thirds were four-year degrees.
The researchers also found that L.A. Unified graduates were more likely to enroll in two-year than four-year colleges. Most of the 2008, 2013 and 2014 graduates enrolled in public colleges and universities in California. About 8 percent of the class of 2014 enrolled in “very selective” four-year universities such as UCLA, UC Berkeley, Stanford and USC, or “selective” four-year colleges such as Loyola Marymount University, UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz and San Diego State University.
The study also revealed disparities based on gender and ethnicity:
- College enrollment, persistence and completion rates were lower for Filipino American, African American and Latino graduates than for white and Asian American graduates.
- Female graduates were more likely than their male classmates to enroll in, persist in and complete college.
- Gender disparities were especially stark for Filipino American, African American and Latino male graduates, who were roughly one-third less likely to enroll or persist in four-year colleges than their female classmates of the same ethnicity.
According to the researchers, improving L.A. Unified students’ academic preparation is essential for ensuring that more graduates start and complete college, and must begin earlier than high school. In addition, striving to ensure that all District students complete their A-G course requirements with at least a C is critical for students’ immediate enrollment after high school in a public, four-year college.
“This report provides a first look at L.A. Unified graduates’ pathways to and through college,” UCLA co-author Jacobson said. “It will be important to continue to track these college-going outcomes in upcoming years to understand students’ successes and challenges as they progress through college, and to learn about how college outcomes change for future graduate cohorts.”
L.A. Unified officials say the study’s recommendations align with the district’s new and ongoing efforts to ensure that students develop the skills and mindset to thrive in college and the workforce.
“The LAERI goals serve as the framework for an array of strategies we are implementing to address the needs of students, families and schools,” said Frances Gipson, the District’s chief academic officer. “We are passionate about continuing our work to foster a college-going climate in our schools and to strengthen our college planning and academic supports as we provide more robust counseling services for our students.”
“We look forward to continuing our partnership with LAERI to learn more about promising strategies for increasing our students’ college readiness,” Gipson said.
Preparation for College
The college readiness study explores the prevalence of support for high school students in L.A. Unified. The data analyzed for this report include survey data from school staff and students in more than 90 percent of the district’s traditional high schools and 76 external service providers, as well as data collected during interviews with district and school staff.
Although more than 75 percent of counselors said they have adequate information to assist students with the college application and financial aid process, less than half said they have enough time to provide students with the individualized college application assistance they need. And counselors at 75 percent of schools report that some students at their schools are not getting the help they need.
Other key findings:
- Counselors cite large caseloads and competing demands on their time as barriers to helping students with the college application and financial aid process. Counselors spend nearly the same amount of time coordinating academic testing and performing non-counseling activities as they do advising students about college and financial aid.
- Nearly all schools offer college readiness support but students still need more help with the college application, financial aid and college enrollment process. About one-fifth of 12th graders in the survey said they didn’t feel that adults at their school had helped them learn the details of getting into college.
- Most L.A. Unified schools rely on external service providers to help them provide college application, financial aid and college enrollment assistance. At more than two-thirds of schools, counselors report that both school and external staff provide college application (66 percent) and financial aid (75 percent) help.
Learning more about disparities among students in their access to college readiness support is an important next step for improving college-going among L.A. Unified graduates, according to the study.
The researchers offer several recommendations for increasing schools’ capacity to meet students’ college counseling needs, including clarifying a common set of college counseling expectations by grade level, diversifying the type of school staff responsible for specific aspects of college counseling assistance, incorporating key college application tasks into required academic coursework, and providing professional development specific to college counseling tasks.
The researchers concluded that the district could maximize the effectiveness of existing partnerships with external service providers by:
- providing counselors and other school staff who connect schools and students to external providers with additional support to develop and maintain these partnerships;
- asking external service providers to contribute to a common information system to aid individual schools or the district in determining which students are and are not receiving sufficient help; and
- evaluating the effectiveness of the college-related services that students receive from external providers.
“This report is a first step toward understanding the college readiness resources available to LAUSD students,” UCLA co-author Miller said. “While we find that nearly all schools offer a range of college readiness resources, identifying the extent of these services — the proportion of students served and the intensity of the services they receive — is essential for more effectively targeting school and district resources.”
Phillips said that LAERI will continue its collaboration with L.A. Unified by gathering additional data on college counseling resources available to students and the relationship between those resources and whether and where students enroll in college.
“Our partnership with LAERI and this research informed our approach to the state’s College Readiness Block Grant,” said Gipson, of L.A. Unified. “Through this research, Phillips and Yamashiro’s team developed a counselor section of our annual staff survey, which provided the first districtwide data on college readiness resources. Additionally, these initial data have provided a foundation for the college readiness professional development resources we are developing for schools.”
“We’re very excited to present the first detailed overviews of LAUSD graduates’ postsecondary outcomes and college readiness supports,” Yamashiro said. “As we build on this research partnership work, we look forward to continuing to collaborate with the district to get a better understanding of elementary and middle school predictors of college readiness and success, identifying schools that are doing an especially good job of preparing their students for college, and helping the district identify the most effective practices and interventions for improving college access.”
Click below to download the full reports in PDF format.