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8 in 10 LAUSD seniors apply to college, and they submit more applications than their peers nationally, new study shows

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | November 16, 2018



Eight out of 10 LA Unified seniors applied to college, and nearly two-thirds applied to at least one four-year college, according to a new report —  the first in a series examining Los Angeles students’ college-going data.

Those figures, for the Class of 2017, show that Los Angeles seniors apply at similar rates as their peers nationally. But they outpace their peers in the number of applications they submit.

The study is the first by a research partnership in Los Angeles County called the Los Angeles Education Research Institute. “L.A. Unified Students’ Pathways to College: Four-Year College Application Patterns” was released Thursday and conducted with LA Unified.

By January of their senior year, about 80 percent of LA Unified 12th-graders in the Class of 2017 had applied to or registered for at least one college, compared to 83 percent nationally, the study found. More than half had applied to four or more four-year colleges.

While the study shows that 64 percent of 12th-graders applied to at least one four-year college, LA Unified data for that class reveal that only a little over half of those seniors were eligible to apply to the state’s public four-year colleges. Students need to pass a set of college-prep classes, called the A-G courses, with a C or better to apply to Cal State and University of California schools. In 2017, 56 percent of LA Unified seniors passed those classes with a C. In 2017, LA Unified’s overall graduation rate was 76 percent.

The study uses the responses of about 17,200 LA Unified senior students in traditional and affiliated charter schools who responded to the 2016-17 secondary Student School Experience Survey, which was administered online in January 2017. The survey asks students about their experiences, behaviors and supports during the college application process. That school year, over 32,000 students were enrolled in 12th grade at traditional and affiliated charter high schools in the district; over half of them participated in the survey.

Here are six key findings from the study:

1. Nearly two-thirds of seniors applied to a four-year college.

However, when it comes to actually enrolling, those numbers drop. “While 64 percent of 12th-graders applied to a four-year college, our analyses of past cohorts indicate that fewer students enroll in a four-year college,” Carrie Miller, LAERI research manager, wrote in an Eduation Week post about the report. She added that “29 percent of students in the class of 2016 enrolled in a four-year college the fall after high school graduation.”

In LA, 46 percent of the students surveyed applied only to four-year colleges; 17.6 percent registered only for two-year community colleges. And 7.7 percent had no plan to apply to or register for any college.

2. Cal State Northridge is the most popular choice.

The 10 most popular four-year colleges to which 12th-graders reported they applied were all public, in-state colleges. Nearly six out of 10 (57 percent) applied to at least one CSU college.

The 10 most popular colleges, in order of the rate of students who applied there, were:

  • CSU Northridge, 32 percent
  • CSU Los Angeles, 31 percent
  • CSU Long Beach, 26 percent
  • UCLA, 21 percent
  • UC Irvine, 20 percent
  • CSU Fullerton, 17 percent
  • CSU Dominguez Hills, 17 percent
  • UC Santa Barbara, 15 percent
  • UC Riverside, 14 percent
  • UC San Diego, 14 percent    

3. Across all ethnic groups, females applied to college more than males.

The highest percentage of females applying to at least one four-year college across all ethnic groups was among Asians, at 86 percent. For Asian males, it was 79 percent.

Among all females, the lowest college-application rate was for whites, at 66 percent.

The larger difference between genders was among African Americans: 72 percent of females applied to college, compared to 58 percent of males. Among Latino females, 69 percent applied to college, compared to 56 percent for males.

4. Whites have the lowest rate of applying to a four-year college.

The lowest college application rate overall was among whites. Of white females, 66 percent applied to at least one four-year college. For white males, it was 56 percent. (That was a tie with Latino males.)

5. LA seniors apply to more colleges than their peers nationally.

LA Unified students who applied to four-year colleges typically applied to four to eight colleges. In LA, 52 percent of students applied to four or more colleges, compared to 21 percent nationally.

The study suggests that may be because low-income students, who make up 80 percent of the district’s enrollment, can qualify for up to four California State University (CSU) and four University of California (UC) application fee waivers. The study also suggests that not all students have used all of the waivers available to them, as 12 percent of them applied to only one to three colleges.

6. Latinos and blacks with similar GPA’s as whites still don’t apply to as many four-year colleges.

Among students of the same race or ethnicity with similar grade-point averages (GPA’s), Latino and African American males were less likely to apply to a four-year college than were Latinas and African American females.

For those with lower GPA’s, whites trailed in applications.

“We also find that white students with GPAs below 3.5, irrespective of gender, applied to four-year colleges at lower rates than students from other racial and ethnic groups,” Miller wrote.

In other findings, students with disabilities and those with limited English skills were less likely to apply at the same rate as their peers. The study suggests they may need more support throughout the college application process. Students’ parents’ college-going patterns also influence how they apply. The study shows that students whose parents did not graduate from college were less likely to apply to a four-year college than students whose parents had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Click here for more on the study and how it was conducted.

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