WHITTIER – California sends a smaller percentage of high school students to four-year colleges than any other state but Mississippi – a trend that experts blame on too few counselors, teachers and college preparatory courses, a new study says. And the roadblocks to college are even larger in schools with high percentages of poor students and English-language learners, according to the 2006 California Educational Opportunity Report prepared by UCLA. The average high school counselor in California is expected to serve 790 students, the worst ratio in the nation, said UCLA Professor Jeannie Oakes, who oversaw the study. Ninety-one percent of the state’s high schools have more students per teacher than the national average and more than 25 percent assign improperly trained teachers to college prep classes, particularly math. And less than half of California high schools offer enough classes so that all students can complete a college prep curriculum. As a result, the study said, only 23 percent of California high school seniors enroll in a four-year college or university. That compares with 21 percent in Mississippi and 47 percent in Massachusetts, the best in the nation. “These roadblocks exist in every school in California, and one in every eight has all of these, making it extraordinarily difficult for students to prepare for college,” Oakes said. The study focused primarily on enrollment at University of California and California State University campuses. Oakes acknowledged that many California students begin their path to a bachelor’s degree in community college, but said transfer rates remain low. California ranks 37th in the nation in the number of students who earn a bachelor’s degree within six years of their high school graduation. The study segregated the data by state Assembly and Senate districts, which Oakes said was done because educational infrastructure will require legislative action to fix. California ranks 11th in per capita income, but ranks 43rd in per capita spending per student, after adjusting for regional cost differences. Ron Carruth, assistant superintendent for the Whittier Union High School District, said the study failed to take into account families’ economic situations. “We have seen the number of students going to two-year colleges increase recently,” Carruth said. “I’m sure families are finding it very hard to pay for four-year college. We’ve seen some significant hikes in tuition and the federal government has cut student loan programs. “It’s a real economic issue in California because of the cost of housing and cost of living.” He speculated that more students are taking advantage of transfer agreements between community colleges and the California State University and University of California systems. At community colleges, students are able to earn most of their general education requirements for a fraction of the cost, then transfer to four-year colleges, reducing their overall education costs. Although the Whittier Union High School District sends 25.3 percent of students to four-year colleges – slightly higher than the statewide percentage – the district does so despite having a high concentration of low-income minority students who are English learners, Carruth said. More than half of Whittier-area schools have 90 to 100 percent minority students, according to the UCLA study. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said California must do a more aggressive job of preparing students for college-level work. “(WUHSD) is a classic example of high expectations,” O’Connell said. “They encourage students to attend college, even first-generation students. They go out of their way to reach out to those students who are the first members of their family to go to college.” O’Connell cited the district’s Advancement Via Individual Determination as a successful model. According to the district, 94 percent of students enrolled in AVID are on track for acceptance to four-year universities, while the national average is 35 percent. Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District sent 25 percent of its students to four-year colleges, while the El Rancho Unified School District stood well above the state average with 38 percent. Julie Ellis, principal at El Rancho High School said a strong literacy intervention program that early on identifies students who are at risk academically helps improve their reading comprehension so much that they can slide into a college track while in high school. “Our emphasis in the last five years has been in academics, so as many fulfill the requirements for the UC and CSU system in order for them to be able to exercise their options after high school,” Ellis said. Carruth said WUHSD also uses the Puente Project, which identifies students in ninth grade who come from families with no history of college and mentors them through high school. [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3029 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE‘Mame,’ ‘Hello, Dolly!’ composer Jerry Herman dies at 88160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!