Beyond Free Tuition: Early Signs of a Strategy that Works

Timely graduation of higher education, whether it be from a 2-year or 4-year institution, has been a persistent challenge within our region and beyond.  Community colleges in particular have reported historically low and seemingly intractable rates of students that earn an Associate’s Degree or workforce certification, or move on to a 4-year institution.  

Which is why the success achieved to date by the Los Angeles Community College District’s (LACCD) College Promise program is indicative of a strategy that is working to shift outcomes in the right direction.  The LA College Promise Program (LACP) began in 2017 to serve first-time, full-time college students to complete their higher education goals or professional workforce certifications.  

Results from the inaugural class of approximately 4,700 students indicate:

– Nearly 70 percent of LACP students declared an intent to transfer to a 4-year institution, significantly higher than the general student population, which is 50 percent.

– Full-time enrollments from LAUSD first-time college students are up 56 percent across the nine LACCD colleges.  Overall enrollment of recent graduates is up 24 percent, counter to statewide trends that show a decrease in enrollment due to downward trends in the population of high school seniors.  

– In comparison to first-time, full-time students in 2016-2017 from LAUSD schools, LAUSD students enrolled in LACP in the 2017-2018 school year achieved a 71 percent increase in completion of College English and Math, a 24 percent increase in the completion of 30 units in the first year, and an 18 percent increase in persistence to the next Fall semester.

The LACP provides the first year of community college free, but leaders credit the success of the program to more than just free tuition.  For one, students are required to enroll full-time to participate, a key factor in determining whether or not students will not only achieve their academic goals, but also do so in a reasonable timeframe.  Students also receive a number of wraparound services, including early outreach and engagement while still in high school and during the first year of enrollment.

As high school students, aspiring LACP students get priority registration, a holistic assessment for strengths-based placement, and pre-enrollment in support services.  During their first year in LACP, students participate in extended orientation during the summer, structured scheduling which includes required english and math courses, and ongoing advising and mentoring.

LACP’s accomplishments have attracted additional local and state level commitments.  

Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced a new goal to double the amount of students participating in the program to 10,000 by 2022, supplemented with free laptops and free bus transportation. Governor Gavin Newsom also committed to providing additional funding to expand the statewide California Promise Program to two full years of free tuition.

Systemwide, LACCD enrolled approximately 115,000 students intending to transfer to a 4-year institution and approximately 35,000 pursuing occupational certifications in the 2017-2018 school year.  

It conferred 26,500 degrees and certificates across its 9 colleges, a 6  percent increase from the year before.