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Opportunity at the Crossroads: Racial Inequality, School Segregation, and Higher Education in California

by Robert Teranishi, Walter R. Allen & Daniel G. Solórzano - 2004

This article addresses the stubborn and persistent underrepresentation of African American and Chicano/Latino in California higher education by examining the academic resources, performance, and postsecondary outcomes of students from public high schools with different racial and social class compositions. The results from this study provide evidence for the degree to which social stratification in California public higher education is associated with racial segregation and inequities in educational resources and postsecondary preparation during high school.

Perhaps one of the most important issues facing the educational system in the United States is the changing face of an increasingly diverse society. While the nation as a whole is experiencing dramatic demographic changes, California is one of the few states where “minorities” will soon be in the majority (Table 1). In 2000, Latinos, Asian Pacific Americans (APAs) and African Americans represented 49.1% of the total population in Califor­nia—by 2010 their proportion is expected to increase to 54.6%. The im­plications of such societal changes reach many aspects of postsecondary education but begin with the need to improve equality of opportunity in the transition from high school to college. With a history of endemic racial inequality in higher education access and achievement, better serving all groups in our changing society should be of the utmost concern for post-secondary institutions.

California’s public higher education system is among the largest, most comprehensive, and most distinguished in the United States. The California public education system provides thousands of elementary and secondary schools, 106 community colleges, and 31 colleges and universities (Califor­nia Postsecondary Education Commission, 1998). These publicly supported educational institutions are complemented by hundreds of private schools, colleges, and universities. The public higher education system alone serves nearly two million students each year.

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Despite the breadth of California’s educational system, there are consid­erable inequities in student educational experiences and outcomes, the ed­ucational settings where they are expected to learn, and the resources available to promote student learning. These educational inequities are most apparent in the differential rates at which various racial/ethnic groups of high school graduates achieve eligibility and access to the state’s public university systems, the California State University (CSU), and the Univer­sity of California (UC) (Allen, Bonous-Hammarth, & Teranishi, 2002).

This study addresses the stubborn and persistent underrepresentation of African American and Chicano/Latino high school graduates1 among stu­dents qualified for admission to California’s public, baccalaureate degree-granting institutions. Since the decision of whether and where to attend college occurs within a large, complex context, we examined the process and related factors determining college preparation and attendance. As such, we asked several pertinent questions, which identify different elements of a larger picture, to comprehend the multilayered, dynamic aspects of college access and success for students of color in California. The re­search questions guiding this study are as follows:

• What is the racial and social class composition of California public high schools?

• How are the resources, postsecondary preparation, and eligibility rates similar or different among schools with different racial/ethnic char­acteristics?

• What are the profiles (race, social class, curricula, resources) of high schools that routinely send the most—and the fewest—students to public higher education in California (community colleges, CSUs, and UCs)?

Our goal was to assess the quality of students’ academic preparation, planning, and access to college while considering the racial and social class composition of the high school context. In this research, we compare the demographic composition and educational resources of high schools that consistently send students to California’s three tiers of public postsecondary education with high schools that are less successful in this respect as a way to better understand the educational pipeline in California.


The pathway to college begins early and is often influenced by a variety of factors. Sometimes, the presence of strong parental influence is the major determinant for students’ preparation for college attendance (Hearn, 1984; Stage & Hossler, 1989). At other times, personal aspirations, peer influence or sheer enjoyment of learning are the major determinants of students’ academic preparation (Galotti & Mark, 1994; Hossler, Braxton, & Coopersmith, 1989). These determinants, however, do not account for such things as the learning environments that students encounter, the rigor of the curriculum presented, or the degree to which the schools they attend expect and encourage high academic achievement and advanced learning (Hearn, 1991; McDonough, 1997; Spencer, Brookins, & Allen, 1985).

The Coleman Report (Coleman et al., 1966) found that children’s ed­ucational opportunities are sharply differentiated across high schools. Race and socioeconomic status continue to have implications for access to quality secondary education (Frankenberg, Lee, & Orfield, 2003). For instance, where students reside largely determines where they attend school (Gandara, 1995; Orfield, 1993). Rumberger and Willms (1992) found that after controlling for student background characteristics, racial segregation in schools is strongly associated with differences in resources and outcomes across schools. In other words, the children who live and attend school in the concentrated poverty zones of urban, inner city communities are almost exclusively low-income students of color (Gandara, 1995; Orfield, 1993).

Racial groups are sharply divided by differential access to college pre­paratory curriculum such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which play an increasingly important role in college admissions (Oakes, 1985). For the University of California, Los Angeles, first-time freshmen had an average of 17 Advanced Placement courses during high school and a grade point average (GPA) of 4.20 on a 4.0 scale equaling an “A” average (University of California Office of the President, 2000). Top students at affluent schools with a wide range of advanced and demanding courses clearly have greater opportunities to attend the most selective colleges compared to their counterparts at high-poverty schools, which offer fewer college prepara­tory courses (Allen et al., 2002; Wilds & Wilson, 1998).

There are also within-school variations across race and class that can influence students’ preparation and access to higher education (Coleman, 1987; Teranishi, 2003). Within-school variations include grouping and tracking practices that result in disproportionate (and often inappropriate) placement of racial and ethnic minority students in the lowest groups (Oakes, 1985). These longstanding practices have a significant negative ef­fect on these students’ opportunity to learn. McDonough (1997) identified within-school differences in access to academic and college counseling re­sources, which are often influenced strongly by a lack of resources available to serve all students. Students are often tracked or targeted as a priority for receiving service while others are assumed to not be “college material.”

Even among students who prepare themselves for college attendance by taking college preparatory courses and earning high grades and test scores, actual enrollment is far from certain. The perception that college attend­ance is both possible and desirable plays a significant role in whether a student initiates and completes the set of activities necessary to be admitted. For example, California’s system of higher education makes the explicit promise that every high school graduate will have an opportunity to attend college, provided the student qualifies academically. Despite this promise, fewer than 60 percent of public high school graduates have historically enrolled in California’s system of public higher education (Allen et al., 2002). Of those, fewer than 21% have enrolled in California public univer­sities after high school graduation. Obviously, factors besides high school graduation and academic preparation influence student decisions about continuing their education beyond high school.


This study is designed to identify and report on key indicators of the ed­ucational conditions of California public secondary schools and the oppor­tunities that exist for access to the University of California. We are working from a perspective of that focuses not only on higher education but also on the critical K-12 factors predicting equity and disparity in access to the University of California. The study is designed to examine indicators of the state’s progress toward reducing disparities in student access and achievement.

Our first goal is provide perspectives on status indicators for access and equity in California higher education. These status indicators include meas­ures such as the size of the achievement gaps among various groups of students and the relative representation of students from various groups among students attending different segments of California higher educa­tion (e.g., UC, CSU, and the Community College system). By examining status indicators, we can assess the equity of critical educational outcomes for students from different racial/ethnic backgrounds (i.e., Asian American, Latino, Black, and White).

Our second goal in this study is to examine leading indicators such as measures of the distribution and availability of resources and quality education in schools serving different groups. Examples of leading indica­tors include the number and proportion of credentialed teachers or the relative availability of AP classes that exist in different schools. Some indi­cators can be both status and leading indicators because they can simulta­neously be a reflection of school performance as well as a reflection of availability or resources. However, we chose to group variables into discrete categories for the purposes of this study. Our goal is to examine the re­lationship between status and leading indicators and to flesh out disparities in the distribution of learning resources and students’ access to higher education in California.


Secondary data were analyzed from several sources to understand the fac­tors, experiences and processes that enhance student academic success, as defined by college preparation and attendance to the UC system. These data sources provided representative and reliable information on the ex­periences and choices of successful precollegiate students across all com­prehensive public high schools in California.


The data are drawn from the California Department of Education, Cali­fornia Postsecondary Education Commission, University of California, Cal­ifornia State University, California Community College (CCC), and the College Board. These data sources contain aggregate information on high schools related to student outcomes, student demographics, course en­rollment patterns, college-going rates, teacher and administrator qualifica­tions, funding patterns and resource allocations, state reform initiatives, and policy decisions impacting the student population in California. The cur­rent database contains information on the 8232 comprehensive public high schools in California.


The database includes 248 variables that measure student outcomes, student demographics, course enrollment patterns, standardized test-taking rates and performance, college eligibility rates, college-going rates, and teacher and administrator qualifications. The status indicators or out­comes in this study are the college-going rates of students from different racial/ethnic backgrounds to California public higher education (e.g., CCC, CSU, and UC systems) and the eligibility rates of students from different racial/ethnic backgrounds to the University of California. We conceptual­ized UC eligibility in three ways: (1) minimum eligibility: completing required coursework3 for UC admissions; (2) moderate eligibility: same as minimum eligibility but taking the SAT I exam; and (3) competitive eligibility: same as moderate eligibility with a combined total SAT I score of at least 1050.

School-leading or condition indicators include measures of social and structural indicators, teacher indicators, and classroom indicators. The so­cial and structural indicators include characteristics of a school, such as size, location, racial and social class composition, and language proficiency of its students. Teacher indicators include measures of combined years of expe­rience, advanced degrees, specialized training, and credential status. Class­room indicators include measures of AP and college preparatory course availability and class enrollment as well as AP exam-taking rates and test performance. Although they can also be conceptualized as status indicators, performance on the SAT and AP exams will be used as measures of leading or conditions indicators. This choice was determined by our primary out­come of this study, which is to examine students’ preparation and transition into postsecondary education.


There were three stages of data analysis. Each of the succeeding stages builds on the previous to provide a layered perspective on the relationship between the demographic composition of high schools and the resources and opportunities available to California secondary students.

At Stage 1, we present descriptive analyses of the demographic compo­sition and resources available in California public high schools. Stage 2 examines how attendance rates to different segments of California higher education differ for schools with different race compositions. Stage 3 in­volves examining the relationship between the high school race/ethnic racial composition, school resources, and enrollment rates to different segments of public higher education.


The results of this study are organized in the following manner. First, we provide profiles for California public high schools, grouped by racial/ethnic concentration. This provides the foundation for the subsequent analyses. Next, we examine status and leading indicators for equity in higher edu­cation across schools with different racial compositions. Finally, we provide a discussion on the relationship between racial/ethnic segregation and the leading and status indicators.


The state of California has a total of 823 comprehensive public high schools distributed across urban (28.4%), suburban (43.5%) and rural (28.1%) areas. The average rate of eligibility for the Federal Free Meal Program (FRM), a common measure of social class, was 11.9%. The average total enrollment per school across all high schools was 1,852 students (see Table 2).

The racial/ethnic breakdown of California’s public high schools is a re­flection of California’s diverse racial population. California public high schools consist of Asian Americans (9.0%), Latinos (34.1%), Blacks (7.1%), and Whites (44.8%). Although there was not any single racial group that made up the majority of California’s high school population, some indi­vidual schools had a single racial group that comprised the majority.

In California, there were 29 schools that had an APA majority population (i.e., greater than 50%). Across these 29 schools, the average proportion of students who were APAs was 60.5%. Asian Americans across all high schools represented a slightly higher average proportion of students with parents who had not completed high school (18.6%) compared to the statewide average (18.0%). However, APA majority schools had an average rate of students with parents who were college graduates (30.9%) that was greater than the state average (25.4%) and almost equal to the average at White majority schools (31.0%). Secondary schools where the majority of the population was APAs were concentrated in both suburban (62.1%) and ur­ban (37.9%) locales. Interestingly, there were no APA majority schools lo­cated in the state’s rural regions. The concentration of APA schools in urban and suburban areas and their higher average social class levels are a re­flection of APA migration/settlement patterns in the state (Teranishi, 2003). Finally, the average enrollment of APA high schools (n 5 1,917) exceeds the average total enrollment for high schools across the state (n 5 1,852).

There were 209 high schools in the state of California with a majority of Chicano/Latino students enrolled. The average proportion of Chicano/Latinos in these schools was 70.6%. These statistics attest to the dramatic de­mographic transition underway in California, as Chicano/Latinos continue to comprise a larger fraction of the state’s population. Latino schools had, on average, the greatest proportion of students with parents who did not complete high school (36.7%) and the lowest proportion of students with parents who graduated from college (14.3%). Nearly half of all Latino schools were located in urban neighborhoods (45.5%), yet many were also located in suburban (26.3%) and rural (28.2%) locales. Chicano/Latino schools had the largest average total enrollment (2,146 students) of all high schools in the state.

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There were 11 high schools in the state of California with an African American majority student enrollment. In African American majority schools, the average proportion of students who were Black was 66.6%. Nearly 20% of students’ parents at Black schools did not complete high school, which was only slightly higher than the average at Asian schools (18.6%) but more than twice the rate at White schools (8.0%). Interestingly, nearly all of the Black schools were located in urban areas (91%) with only one school located in a suburban neighborhood and none in a rural locale. Black schools had an average total enrollment that was lower than the state average at 1,698 students.

There were 373 schools with a White majority, making these schools the largest number of schools with a majority concentration of any single racial group. White schools also had the highest average concentration of any single racial group overall with White students comprising 71.2% of the students. The second largest proportion of students attending White ma­jority schools was Chicano/Latinos, who represented an average of 16.2% of the total population in White schools. White schools had the highest pro­portion of students with college-educated parents (31%) and the lowest proportion of parents who had not completed high school (8%), thereby producing the greatest concentration of racially segregated schools with middle- and upper class students in the state. White schools were mostly concentrated in suburban (49.6%) and rural (41.3%) areas and were least likely to be in urban neighborhoods (9.1%). White schools had the lowest average enrollment of students at 1,559.

Some students were more likely to attend schools where their racial/ ethnic group was the majority. For example, only 15% of APA youth in the state attended an APA majority school. However, 66% of White students attend White majority schools and 56% of Latinos attended Latino majority schools. By comparison, Black students were the group least likely to attend their respective racial majority school with fewer than 10% of Black students in the state attending Black majority schools. Twenty-four percent of Cal­ifornia’s African American high school students attended Chicano/Latino schools. When combined, Latinos and African Americans in Latino majority schools constituted an average of 95% of all enrolled students. This has implications for how we examine the educational experiences of students from different racial/ethnic backgrounds. Clearly, analyses of status and leading indicators for different racial groups not only require the exam­ination of students in school settings where they are the majority, but also in schools where another race/ethnic majority comprises the majority racial/ ethnic group.


This section provides an overview of status indicators (college eligibility and college-going rates) for the state and for schools with different racial/ethnic student populations. These status indicators are examined within the con­text of the extreme racial segregation that characterizes California public high schools, a phenomenon found in schools across the nation (Orfield, 1993).

As described earlier, University of California eligibility can be measured in a range from minimum to competitive eligibility. Examining eligibility in this fashion is revealing, given that high schools and UC campuses across the state have pronounced inequities in eligibility and acceptance rates of students from different race/ethnic groups (Table 3).

For students attending public high schools statewide, the average UC minimum eligibility rate was 22.2% overall; the UC moderate eligible rate was 6.6%; and UC competitive eligibility rate was 3.0%. At the state level, APAs and Whites had higher minimum, moderate, and competitive eligi­bility rates than Latinos and Blacks. However, the eligibility rates for dif­ferent racial/ethnic groups were not consistent across the different categories of schools with different racial concentrations. In many cases, eligibility rates varied widely for racial/ethnic groups, depending on the racial concentration of the high school attended.

For example, although African American students had an average min­imum eligibility rate of only 13.5% in the state overall, the rate among Black students who attended APA majority schools was 46.5%. For Latino students who also had a low average statewide minimum eligibility rate of only 13.7%, the rate among Chicano/Latino students who attended APA schools was much higher (34.6%). Latino students who attended White schools also had a higher minimum eligibility rate (18.1%) than the average among Latinos at Latino majority schools. However, the gap between eligibility rates of Black students attending Black majority and White majority schools was not as large as it was for Latino students (less than 1%).

White and Asian student eligibility rates were highest in White and Asian majority high schools. When White or APA students attended Black or Latino majority schools, their college eligibility rates were significantly low­er. In general, minimum eligibility rates for White and Asian students who attended Black and Latino majority high schools were two to three times lower than for White and Asian students who attended Asian or White majority schools.

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The most pronounced differences in eligibility rates between Black and Latino majority schools and White and Asian majority schools were with respect to moderate and competitive eligibility rates. Across all racial groups, students had competitively eligible rates at White majority schools that were many times higher than at Latino or Black majority high schools. For example, while there were 49,007 Latino graduates from Latino ma­jority schools and 16,570 Latino graduates from White majority schools, there were 324 Chicano/Latinos who were moderately or competitively UC-eligible from Latino majority schools compared to 690 from White majority schools. At Latino majority schools, fewer than a half of 1% of the Latino graduates were moderately or competitively eligible for UC compared to 4% of Latino graduates from White majority schools. White and Asian stu­dents also had much lower moderate and competitive eligibility rates when they attended Black and Latino majority schools than was true when they attended White and Asian majority schools. For example, in Black majority schools, the average number of White students competitively eligible for UC admissions was less than 1%. Asians who attended White majority high schools were nearly four times more likely to be competitively UC-eligible than if they attended Black majority schools. These inequitable eligibility rates had implications for the college-going rates of different racial groups attending California’s racially segregated public high schools.

While 54% of all graduates from California high schools enrolled in Cal­ifornia public higher education institution, there was great unevenness by race/ethnicity in the proportion of students who attended community col­leges (33.4%), CSUs (13.1%) and UCs (7.6%). A greater proportion of APA (20.3%) and White graduates (12.4%), compared to Latino (4.5%) or Black (3.4%) high school graduates, attended UC campuses (Table 4). A higher proportion of Asian American high school graduates (16.1%) also attended CSU compared to other race/ethnic groups. Attendance at CSU campuses was more equitable among Latino (10.6%), Black (9.7%) and White (9.5%) California high school graduates. Chicano/Latino (49.5%) and African American (34.1%) high school graduates had greater representation at community colleges than Asians (27.6%) and Whites (28.3%). However, just as eligibility rates varied for students of different racial backgrounds across high schools with different racial compositions, so did college-going rates and college destinations.

Greater proportions of Asian and White graduates who attended Asian and White majority high schools enrolled at a UC campus than was true for graduates from Latino or Black majority schools. However, White and Asian graduates had fairly even attendance rates at CSU campuses and community colleges, regardless of the race/ethnic composition of the high school they attended. Yet students from Black majority high schools exhibited the lowest CSU and community college attendance rates out of the four ethnic/racial groups (only Black graduates from Latino majority high schools had lower UC attendance rates). In other words, while college at­tendance rates for Asian and White graduates were fairly consistent and high across all the high schools, their rate of attending a UC campus was much higher when they attended a White or Asian majority high school.

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Black and Latino students were also more likely to attend a UC and CSU campus if they graduated from a White or Asian majority high school. However, the rate at which Black and Latino graduates attended commu­nity colleges was actually higher at White and Asian majority schools than when they attended Black and Latino majority schools. Therefore, while there was a larger college-going rate for Black and Latino students at White and Asian majority schools, much of the gains were to their community college-going rates.


Our analysis of the leading indicators for inequity in California’s secondary schools focuses on the SAT college admissions examination and AP academic program participation (i.e., courses and exams). The SAT and AP programs have played an increasingly important role in determining access to higher education. We are interested here in the relationship between SAT and AP opportunities/performance as measures of academic achievement, resources and enrichment in high schools with different race/ethnic majorities.

In 2000, a total of 113,629 students from California public high schools took the SAT I exam. Across all schools, this was an average of 138 students per school. The average combined verbal and math score among these students was 981. Consistent with national averages, students in California fared better on the SAT math section (495.8) than on the SAT verbal section (480.1). These state SAT averages provide a baseline for comparing scores across different racially segregated schools.

In terms of test-taking rates, on average, more students from APA ma­jority schools (268.6) and White majority schools (137.5) took the SAT exam than did students who attended Latino majority (109.1) and Black majority public high schools (104.7). However, this discrepancy is greatly magnified when we consider that Latino and Black majority (and to a less extent, Asian majority) schools tended to have higher enrollment rates than White ma­jority schools. In other words, the proportion of students who took the SAT provides a telling picture of the disparate test-taking rates across different race/ethnic composition high schools (Table 5).

There were also differences in students’ performance on the SAT exam across high school racial/ethnic contexts. Students who attended APA ma­jority schools had the highest average total test scores (1,062.1) and students who attended Black schools had the lowest average total test scores (781.8). Students at White schools had the highest average SAT verbal scores (512.7) and the students at APA majority schools had the highest SAT math scores (564.2). Students who attended Black majority schools scored the lowest on the verbal section (392.9) and on the math section (388.9).

The disparate SAT test-taking rates and scores are reason for concern because of the significant role that these exams play in determining the type of institution a student is competitively eligible to attend. In many cases, test scores and GPA are the primary measure for admissions to the most selective public universities in California. Differential test-taking rates and performance on the SAT exam across schools with different concentrations of racial/ethnic groups provide strong evidence of racial/ethnic inequalities in high school educational opportunity and achievement.

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Another disparate resource that provides evidence of racial/ethnic in­equality across California’s public high schools is the AP program. Previous research revealed that among 830 comprehensive public high schools in California, there were 144 schools with 15 or more AP courses, 333 schools with four or fewer AP courses, and 169 schools that did not offer any AP courses (Teranishi, 2001). Teranishi (2001) also found that schools with greater proportions of Black and Latino schools were more likely to have fewer AP courses than schools with greater proportions of White and Asian students. In the current study, we examine these disparities more closely, both across and within schools with different concentrations of various racial groups.

In 2000, there were 226,250 students enrolled in AP classes throughout the state. Among these students, there were 99,801 students who took 169,521 AP exams with a passing rate of 52.2%. APA majority schools had a much higher proportion of their students (30.7%) enrolled in AP courses than at schools with White (17%), Latino (11%), and Black (11%) majorities. Students from White majority public high schools represented 38.1% of the total enrollment in California but accounted for 43.8% of all students en­rolled in AP courses. However, while students at Latino majority schools represented nearly one third of the total enrollment in the state, they rep­resented only 21% of all AP students.

A greater proportion of students from APA and White majority schools took at least one AP exam than was true for students attending Latino and Black majority schools (Table 6). Again, this disparity is more dramatic when we control for the size differences of these schools. Students from APA majority schools had the highest passing rate (65.5%), while students from Black majority schools had the lowest passing rate (18.1%). Students from Latino majority schools had a higher passing rate than students at Black schools (46.9 vs. 18.1).

The passing rate of students at Latino majority schools can be misleading because of the performance of Latino students on the Spanish language exam. At one school in Los Angeles, for example, the greatest number of AP exams completed were the Spanish Language and Spanish Literature sub­ject areas. For these subject areas, students from this particular high school had the highest passing rates. When you remove the passing rates on Spanish Language and Literature exams, however, the total average AP passing rate falls dramatically to 2.6% (down from 48%).

Because of the disparities in test performance, we thought it would be important to examine the students’ access to quality teachers. By examining the teaching faculty in public high schools across the state, we hoped to better understand differential college eligibility rates and academic prep­aration. In particular, we wanted to gain some insight into the sources of differences in achievement rates on the SAT and AP exams across schools with different racial/ethnic concentrations.

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In total, there were 61,640 teachers in California public high schools. Ninety percent of the faculty was made up of fully credentialed teachers. Although teaching credentials were required of all teachers in schools to ensure proper training and basic performance for teaching, there were also nearly 8% of teachers with emergency credentials and a smaller proportion on university/district internships. One percent of teachers were on waiver status, which excuses them from the requirement of having a current cre­dential to teach in California public high schools.

There is great disparity in the rate in teacher credentials across racially segregated high schools. For example, White (93.5%) and Asian (90.2%) majority schools had higher rates of teachers with full credential status. Fewer teachers at Latino (82.3%) and Black (78.6%) majority high schools were fully credentialed. Latino and Black majority high schools had larger proportions of teachers on emergency credentials, working as interns, or on waiver status. The average proportion of teachers on emergency credentials at Chicano/Latino (14.6%) and African American (16.5%) majority schools was actually more than twice the rate at White (7.1%) or Asian (7.3%) ma­jority schools. This raises serious questions about the relative caliber, quality, and experience of teachers across high schools in the state with different race/ethnic student compositions (Table 7).

Related to the experience level of high school teachers, we also examine teacher tenure and retention rates. At White and APA majority schools, teachers had higher average numbers of years teaching in their schools and their districts (15.2 and 16.7 years, respectively) than did teachers at Latino and Black majority schools (13.9 and 13.6 years, respectively). Inversely, Latino and Black majority schools had a greater proportion (6.2 and 6.4 percent, respectively) of faculty in their first or second year of teaching than White (3.9%) or APA (4.9%) majority high schools. These patterns suggest that turnover rates tend to be higher for teachers in Latino and Black majority schools.

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We ran Pearson correlations to examine the statistical relationship be­tween leading indicators and the proportion of total enrollment of underrepresented minorities (defined as Black and/or Latinos) (see Table 8). We found that as the proportion of underrepresented minority (URM) students increased, there was a statistically significant negative association with SAT scores, AP course-taking, and AP exam passing rates. For teacher experience variables, we found that as the proportion of a school’s URM population increased, the proportion of the teachers with full credentials decreased and the proportion of teachers with emergency credentials in­creased. These patterns further attest to the disparities in resources and postsecondary opportunities found in the cross-tabulations.


These findings provide convincing evidence that access to California public higher education is associated with racial/ethnic segregation and educa­tional disparities in the state’s public high schools. We see a picture of unequal educational opportunity, eligibility and college-going rates from public high school to public higher education in California. These dispar­ities are magnified at the most selective tier of public higher educa­tion—namely, the UC system. Students attending Black and Latino schools were less likely to apply, be admitted or enroll in the UC system than at the predominately White or Asian schools. Similar disparities by high school race/ethnic composition in access to quality resources were apparent.

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Black and Latino majority schools had fewer educational resources that resulted in poorer educational preparation and fewer opportunities for higher education. Schools with greater proportions of Black and Latino students had fewer AP classes available and a lower proportion of their total population enrolled in AP classes than was true at predominately White or Asian schools. In some of the predominately White and Asian schools, more than 50% of the students are enrolled in AP courses.

Latino and Black students were more likely to be confined to Chicano/ Latino and African American majority schools that had fewer educational resources such as high quality curriculum, which limited opportunities to pursue higher education. Black and Latino majority schools were more likely to have lower teacher retention rates, less experienced teachers, and fewer teachers who were fully credentialed. High turnover rates for teach­ers result in more discontinuity for students and require more part-time and substitute teachers to fill the void of an incomplete faculty. The ultimate result is diminished teacher effectiveness. The lack of educational resources in Black and Latino majority schools not only disadvantaged the Black and Latino majority, but also their White and APA counterparts. In Black and Latino majority high schools, White and APA students did not exhibit the same levels of college eligibility and college attendance rates as were char­acteristic for White and Asian majority schools.

White and APA majority schools were rich in educational resources and thus provided the best opportunity for access to public higher education. This advantage was most evident for White and Asian students and, to a lesser extent, Latino students. In addition, the advantage that Whites ex­perienced in White and Asian majority schools reached a greater proportion of the overall White student population, since the majority of Whites at­tended White schools and were least likely to attend schools with high pro­portions of minority students. More APA students were spread across schools with other racial majorities, but the largest concentration of APA students outside of Asian schools was in White schools. Although Latino and Black students were often likely to attend schools with large proportions of Latino and Black students, some of these students also attended White schools. When Latinos and Blacks attended predominately White high schools, how­ever, their college-going rates only increased for community colleges. For African American students, in particular, who attended predominately White high schools, their college eligibility rates were actually lower than in Black majority high schools.

Within the school context, there may have been peer effects related to social and cultural capital, which has been found to be positively associated with individual school performance and attendance at more selective colleges (McDonough, 1997; Stanton-Salazar, 2001). These peer effects are mediated by the quality of the resources in the schools, such as the teachers or the availability of college-preparatory curriculum, which are a fundamental part of increasing the likelihood of students aspiring to or attending a more selective college. In addition, over time, schools that historically have sent high num­bers of students to more selective colleges and universities create a historical legacy of “feeding” students to these campuses, while other schools have not established comparable pipelines. Finally, it is important to acknowledge that the privileges and disadvantages for whom these resources are divided can be found in a racial construct, as demonstrated in the results of this study.


This study examines the privileges and disadvantages embedded in struc­tural elements of public secondary schools in California. In an increasingly diverse society, racial segregation in neighborhoods and schools is increasing, rather than decreasing (Orfield, 1993; Portes & Rumbaut, 1996). This study provides a portrait of the ways that racial/ethnic inequalities in access to higher education are distributed across schools with different concentrations of racial majority schools. In addition, our findings reveal how inequities in educational resources across segregated schools may account for these dif­ferences in educational achievement and college access.

The findings from this study abound with implications for theory and practice. First, we believe that it is important for research to consider the relationship between racial segregation and educational mobility. This is particularly important when considering the roles that structural factors can play in students’ opportunities for postsecondary opportunities. Given that educational resources and opportunities are racially disparate, we must strive to reconceptualize the role of race in equitable access to higher ed­ucation. We are hopeful that this research will inform policy planning and decisions related to college opportunities and educational equity. This study provides strong evidence for the degree to which social stratification in higher education access is associated with racial segregation and inequities in educational resources and postsecondary preparation. In racially segre­gated schools, imperatives for educational failure disproportionately fall on people of color.

This is not to say that race is the only factor we use to explain educational inequality. We acknowledge that equitable access to higher education is a complex problem. In addition to structural elements, there are individual, interpersonal and sociohistorical factors that need to be accounted. For example, the psychological and interpersonal climate of schools is impor­tant to consider. Why do all racial groups benefit from attending White majority high schools, except for Black students? Studies have found that perception is both a product of the environment and a potential determi­nant of future interactions and outcomes (Astin, 1968; Berger & Milem, 1999; Tierney, 1987). Research must address students’ perceptions of racial inclusion and classroom diversity in multicultural and multiracial environ­ments. Students’ perceptions of these environments can have implications for group relations, levels of racial tension, and discrimination in diverse school environments.

Some schools have undergone dramatic shifts in their racial, ethnic and economic composition, particularly in urban neighborhoods. In Central Los Angeles, the past 50 years have seen a nearly exclusive White popu­lation in the 1950s shift to predominantly Black in the 1960s and 1970s and to Latino in the 1990s. Other schools have also only recently experienced changes in their student population as a result of a growing middle class of color. In this light, we must examine the degree that K-12 and postsec­ondary educational systems maintain traditional values and practices that best serve a homogeneous White, middle-class population. We should also explore how this society’s culture of historical segregation and racial hier­archy continues to shape educational experiences. In sum, social mobility, structural inequalities and educational outcomes are best understood and addressed within the context of our rapidly changing society. In this respect, California, which has been at the leading edge of demographic racial, ethnic, cultural, political and economic shifts nationally, holds im­portant lessons for the rest of the country as we move into the 21st century.

This research was supported by funding from UC ACCORD and the CHOICES Project, a study of access and achievement of Black, Latino, and Asian American students in the state of California. The CHOICES study was based at the University of California, Los Angeles, and was supported by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. A version of this article was presented at a meeting titled “Achieving Diversity in Tertiary and Higher Education: Chal­lenges and Prospects,” sponsored by the UCLA 21st Century Project and the Rockefeller Foundation Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 11, 2004, p. 2224-2245
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12765, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 1:07:00 PM

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About the Author
  • Robert Teranishi
    New York University
    E-mail Author
    ROBERT TERANISHI is assistant professor of higher education in the Steinhardt School of the Education at New York University.
  • Walter Allen
    University of California, Los Angeles
    WALTER ALLEN is professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
  • Daniel Solórzano
    University of California, Los Angeles
    DANIEL G. SOLÓRZANO is a professor in and chair of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Los Angeles.
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