East Los Angeles College degree completion should be priority

By Maegan Ortiz

East Los Angeles College needs to do more to ensure a broad variety of students graduate.

ELAC needs to offer more individual attention via smaller classes and better counseling and tutoring services to make this possible.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released statistics showing that people who earn a two-year degree leading directly to a job, like through the nursing program, and those who earn academic two-year degrees that often are first step toward a bachelor’s degree have lower unemployment than those who have taken some college courses without getting a degree.

Those with academic two-year degrees have less than a five percent unemployment rate.

While the numbers may hint at those in vocational programs faring better, students who earn an associate’s degree so they can continue to a four-year college have the potential to fare better.

Overall, people with a bachelor’s degree have about a three percent unemployment rate and earn more than those with two-year degrees.

According to the Hamilton Project, a project of the Brookings Institute think tank, college graduates make, on average, roughly $30,000 more a year than high-school graduates who never went to college.

The challenge for ELAC and other community colleges is to prevent students from dropping out.

According to CollegeMeasures.com, sponsored by the Bill and Miranda Gates Foundation, only less than 35 percent of students at ELAC graduate or transfer.

Numbers, however, can also be misleading. The 1990 federal Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act only counts graduation rates at four year colleges of students who have never been to college before and who earn a degree within six years at the same college they enrolled at as freshman.

This leaves many students, such as myself, out. As 37-year-old woman returning to college after dropping out of a four-year liberal arts college 17 years ago, I want to know how students like me are faring.

Returning students, often go back to school to finish what they started before life circumstances changed their paths. In a world where being credentialed means the difference between earning minimum wage and earning a living wage, ELAC has a duty to make sure all types of students live up to their potential.

There are numerous reasons why students drop out. Many are overwhelmed with trying to balance work and school, a reality for many students as access to financial aid is more complicated and competitive.

Others do not or cannot find support networks to help them overcome challenging prerequisites in areas such as science and math.

One solution is a bill recently passed by the California State Senate which would allow some community colleges to offer four-year degrees.

The degree programs would have to be in an area in demand in terms of jobs and cannot duplicate degree programs already offered by either the University of California or the California State University systems.

While that bill moves onto the California State Assembly, thousands of ELAC students continue working hard towards their goal of earning their associate degree or transferring.

Students graduating this week or transferring in the fall certainly serve as an example, but ELAC needs to be more proactive in making sure new students and continuing students leave the school with a diploma or a letter of acceptance to a four-year college.

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