The Equity Gap: Despite Progress, California Community Colleges Won’t Reach Newsom’s Aspirational Goals

PUBLISHED OCT 13, 2022 2:46 P.M.
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Sacramento City College in Sacramento on Oct. 3, 2022.

Sacramento City College in Sacramento on Oct. 3, 2022.   Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters


In 2017, barely a half-year into his tenure as chancellor of the country’s largest system of higher education, Eloy Ortiz Oakley threw down the gauntlet. Under his leadership, the California Community Colleges unveiled a series of unprecedented academic goals dubbed the Vision for Success.

If met, the achievements would catapult California’s moribund community college system to new heights, leading to thousands more students annually earning degrees, certificates and transferring to universities.

The deadline to meet most of those goals came and went last month.

The verdict? The system has virtually no shot of reaching its most audacious academic goals of narrowing by 40% the graduation rate gap among its Black, Latino and white students in five years. Nor is the system on track to narrow the graduation-rate gaps across regions, such as between the Bay Area and the poorer Inland Empire.

While the number of students graduating after three years has inched upward for all regions — and almost all demographic groups — the regions and groups that were already completing degrees and certificates at higher levels have continued to grow their rates. With even progress across the board, the groups already behind can’t catch up unless community colleges graduate them at faster rates. For this reason, it’s unlikely that the graduation rates will narrow to remove the so-called “equity gap” among regions and demographic groups.

The goals were “improbable,” but not impossible, Oakley told CalMatters, who retired as the system’s chancellor this summer and now leads the College Futures Foundation. (The group supports CalMatters financially but has no influence over the newsroom’s coverage).

Still, “I think the first five years of Vision for Success goals certainly, you can point to the fact that we’re not going to close it to 40%,” Oakley said.

Even less likely? Gov. Gavin Newsom’s more aspirational goals. In a “roadmap” published this year that’s guiding his administration’s funding priorities for community colleges, Newsom expects the system to close all equity gaps by 2026 — along racial, ethnic and economic lines as well as between students with and without disabilities.

“We’re not going to close the equity gaps,” said Pamela Haynes, president of the Board of Governors, the body that oversees the central office of California’s community college system. At least not by 2026.

“I’m Black, I’m female, and I went through a community college and I went through a UC system — it took me 14 years to do it,” Haynes said in an interview. “I stopped out to have children, I stopped out for a number of reasons, so I know what it takes to go to school.”

Read more of The Equity Gap: Despite Progress, California Community Colleges Won’t Reach Newsom’s Aspirational Goals’ on CalMatters. is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

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