(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Cabrillo College is marking a major milestone this year: For the first time in the community college’s history, 50% of its graduating class is Latinx.

Besides serving as a notable marker of the changing demographics of the college district — and California in general — the milestone is a sign of success in closing equity gaps around completion rates, according to college president Matt Wetstein.

“What that data point is suggesting is we have eliminated that gap in completion at Cabrillo College, and that’s huge,” Wetstein said.

That’s especially true, Wetstein said, because Latinx students make up a higher proportion of the graduating class than of the college’s enrollment as a whole. As of last fall, 46% of the student body was Latinx — slightly more than prior years when most of the current graduating class would have enrolled.

Latinx representation among Cabrillo graduates has been on an upward trend for most of the past two decades — more than doubling since 2005, when Latinx students made up 21% of graduates.

Latinx students have made up the largest group of Cabrillo graduates since surpassing non-Latinx white students in 2017. Non-Latinx whites remain the second-largest racial or ethnic group, at 39% of the class.

Cabrillo College’s 2021 graduating class numbers some 1,240 students, 50% of whom are Latinx. Earning the nickname “COVID cohort,” those students have spent their last year at the college studying under a mostly remote model.

Graduates are on average 27 years old, ranging in age from 17 to 73, per the college’s data. About 66% are female — another notable indicator of demographic shifts at Cabrillo and other colleges.

With two campuses, in Aptos and Watsonville, Cabrillo College has an enrollment of about 10,600 students as of this spring. It is a federal Hispanic-Serving Institution, a designation reserved for colleges that enroll at least 25% Hispanic or Latinx students. The designation makes colleges eligible for federal grant funding.

Nick Ibarra covers higher education for Lookout Santa Cruz, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for Lookout Santa Cruz, in partnership with Open Campus.