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Cal State universities may up their college admissions requirements. But will that hurt low-income students?

Nina Agrawal, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

"This is one of my favorites classes to come to," she said.

Montgomery said that making a fourth year of math a requirement would not be a burden at his school, where the vast majority of students are Latinx and low-income.

Cynthia Gonzalez, principal of the communications and technology high school at the Diego Rivera Learning Complex, where the vast majority of students are also Latinx and low-income, agreed the intent behind the proposal is a good one.

But, she said, the requirement is "not going to trigger resources to our schools." Paying a hard-to-recruit math teacher would be difficult, she said.

"The reality in communities like ours is that ... unless there's a larger initiative by the district to make sure our schools have priority placement or heavy recruitment ... it might not ultimately meet their intended consequences," she said.

The Los Angeles school board opposes the Cal State proposal, writing in a motion this summer that the requirement would further exacerbate access barriers for students of color and low-income students, who make up the majority of the district. The district currently only requires three years of high school math to graduate. Leaders in the Anaheim, Sacramento and San Francisco public school districts have also opposed the proposal.

Los Angeles board member Jackie Goldberg said that it would be fine to require the additional year of math for students who intend to major in a math-heavy field. But a universal requirement would deny access to students who "really should be there and will do well there," she said.

Board member Monica Garcia expressed concern that the policy change was an effort by Cal State to contain enrollment.

Cal State officials say they remain committed to ensuring equitable access and that the proposal is by no means an effort to curb enrollment. They note that more than 90% of students already meet the proposed requirement. They also point out that Cal State turns out the majority of the state's teachers and has recently committed $10 million to train a new crop of math and science teachers.


In Long Beach Unified School District, an experiment to require more math is already underway.

Six years ago, Long Beach Unified Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser, who is also a member of the Cal State Board of Trustees, met with the presidents of Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City College to discuss adding a fourth year of math in high school, since so many graduates went on to need remedial coursework in college.

Long Beach schools, where the majority of students are non-white and come from households below the federal poverty level, phased in the graduation requirement over four years. Over that time period, the district's graduation rate went up, as did the percentage of students meeting the A-G requirements and becoming eligible for Cal State admission.

"When you raise the bar and you provide the right support for everybody -- for kids, for teachers, for parents -- kids meet that standard and exceed it," Steinhauser said.

(Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.)

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