Hi, my name is Naomi Harris and I cover race and equity within higher education. If this is your first newsletter, welcome! Make sure to check out my previous work. And sign up here to get your own copy.

This issue will focus on barriers. What gets in people’s way as they work to get into, and through, college?

College-Going in Stockton

Leti Paniagua of Stockton. She’s not currently enrolled in college but hopes to return to California State University, Stanislaus and major in social sciences.

In my last newsletter, I mentioned some reporting I’d been doing in California this fall, talking with students about their relationship with college. Our first set of stories is out this week. It features the experiences of people my colleagues and I met in Stockton, in agricultural San Joaquin County. There, only about one in five adults has a bachelor’s degree.

I’m working on this project with a Stockton native, Victoria Franco. She went to the local community college, Delta, and graduated from San Jose State University. I talked with her about our reporting and her own college journey.

Some of what Victoria reported on was personal. She grew up in a household with a single mother and money was a daunting challenge that became very real when she graduated. With a disability, Victoria asked to stay in a single dorm room and had to pay extra despite her health condition. She recalled one day being sat down to go over her college fees, and she didn’t feel like she was told enough about the real cost of student loans. Now, Victoria said students should be taught more about college debt and things like interest rates.

Victoria Franco reported on the relationship Stockton students have with college.

What surprised you while you were reporting on college students in Stockton?

“The lack of wanting to make it big or, not even big, but getting an education. I was surprised to see how many students don’t have the motivation to want to go to school. It’s just not something they want to do.”

What do you hope readers gain from reading the profiles?

“I want students to know that Delta college or community college is an option. A lot of students get in debt because they decided, no, I can’t stay in Stockton because people are gonna laugh at me. I really hope that readers can see that Delta is a viable option, and it’s very good for us.”

Why is it important to have a variety of voices speaking to their own college or career paths?

“I think it’s important for people to see that they’re not alone in this. They’re not alone in thinking college is expensive or classes are really hard. It’s important to cover stories like this so that readers can say, ‘Hey, you know, I actually feel like this person and this person is still trying to make it work. So maybe I can too.’”

What did we miss? Who should we talk to next time?

“I wish we could have maybe got more people to talk about the violence. School is the last thing you are going to think about when somebody is hitting you or somebody is telling you ‘Oh, you’re not going to eat tonight’. I wish we would have gotten more into that because I don’t think we were able to cover students who go through domestic violence, students who are living in their car. That’s a lot of what you see in Stockton.”

Closing a Performance Gap

Faculty use a new model to improve pass rates for incoming students. Credit: USG

One big barrier to college completion has often been remedial courses. When students spend too much time in them, without earning college credits, they often get discouraged.

Remedial courses have long been used by colleges to provide focused training in basic subjects like math and English to get incoming students ready for college-level work. But in recent years, some systems have experimented with different models.

One of those is called corequisite support, an approach that allows students to get extra academic support while also enrolling in classes that earned them credits towards their degree.

One system that adopted the approach was the 26-campus University System of Georgia.

Tristan Denley, the executive vice chancellor of the university system, said various types of state colleges — from smaller to bigger universities and both highly selective and open access ones — all had the same traditional approach. It wasn’t working for any of them, he said.

In 2017, the system analyzed success rates of students finishing the remedial classes and saw those rates were low. For students who took remedial math, only one out of five passed. For English, just under half did.

“The students just kind of get lost in the whole journey and really never successfully navigate their way through it,” said Denley.

Since adopting the new model, state colleges in Georgia saw increases in pass rates to 66% in math and to 69% in English. Black students earning a C or higher more than doubled after the new approach, moving pass rates closer to their Latinx and white peers. Gaps in performance also significantly improved for first-generation students and Pell eligible students.

The model showed despite different preparation or lack of resources, students from multiple backgrounds could succeed.

The new model, Denley said, is “producing this very powerful leveling effect.”

Were you placed in one of those classes? The ones you stressed over because it meant studying one of your weaker subjects, all while knowing the class is a gate to actual credit courses. What got in your way? How did you make it through? Send me an email at naomi@opencampusmedia.org and tell me what the experience was like.

Recommended readings

Eli Fox and Jamie Marquis at their home in Sacramento on Dec. 4, 2021. Photo by Karlos Rene Ayala for CalMatters
  • A new California state law would require state colleges to update records for students who have changed their names. Read this story from Oden Taylor on why it matters to those who have been “deadnamed.”
  • GPA restrictions have excluded students of color from higher earning fields. Check out this story by Oyin Adedoyin on why getting into college is now only half the battle for many students.

Thanks for reading!

Happy holidays and thanks for checking out my newsletter. Look out for more higher education stories and student-focused profiles in the new year. In the meantime, send me an email if you have any pitches, tips or ideas at naomi@opencampusmedia.org.

Open Campus national reporter covering the intersection of race and higher education.