This fall, Cal State Long Beach's social work program launched a pilot program placing eight interns in local middle schools and three interns in Boys & Girls Clubs of Long Beach. The program, which will be supported through an investment to the LA Region K-16 Collaborative, will hopefully add 50 seats to CSULB's social work major, which is currently highly impacted. Photo courtesy of Monica Lounsbery

Long Beach schools at every level could soon see funding to help close equity gaps.

UNITE-LA, an organization dedicated to tackling systemic barriers to education and career success, last month announced an over $18 million investment by the California Department of General Services. The Long Beach region, including Cal State Long Beach, the Long Beach College Promise and the LBUSD, is eligible to receive about $2.8 million of that funding over the next four years.

The Long Beach region is an integral part of a larger LA Region K-16 Collaborative that UNITE-LA has convened, which is anchored around five CSUs, including CSULB, said Carrie Lemmon, the organization’s vice president of systems change strategy.

Representatives of the Long Beach institutions hope to use the money to improve early exposure to the health care, engineering and computing career fields and to further develop access to education and career pathways for students of color.

Collaboration is key

“The call from the state was, ‘You can’t just work in your own little region,’” Lemmon said.

But collaborating to streamline educational pathways isn’t new to Long Beach. The city has historically had a strong partnership between Cal State Long Beach, the LBUSD, Long Beach City College and the Long Beach College Promise program, which provides two years of free LBCC education for students who graduated from an LBUSD high school, Lemmon said.

UNITE-LA also understands the importance of working together. For nearly 15 years, the organization has convened workgroups for the L.A. Compact, a collaboration of two dozen Los Angeles area agencies, including the LAUSD, the LA County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, that seeks to improve access to education and workforce pathways for people of color.

“We recognize no single institution alone can solve these big problems that span across institutions in education and the workforce, so the compact brings together all of the prominent leaders in the region to collectively try to lead this transformational change,” said UNITE-LA executive director Alysia Bell.

By uniting K-12 schools, community colleges, CSUs, and other community partners throughout each region to streamline educational pathways through the LA Region K-16 Collaborative, the work that both the L.A. Compact and the Long Beach College Promise have been doing for over a decade can be built upon, Lemmon said.

Why the focus is necessary

Although 70% of jobs nationwide are expected to require some sort of college credential by 2027, according to UNITE-LA data from 2018, there are clear disparities in access to education among Latino and Black populations.

In 2018, only 55% of Latino students and 59% of Black students matriculated to higher education, compared to 72% of their White peers, according to California Department of Education.

There’s also a huge gap in persistence and completion, Lemmon said.

Particularly within the health care industry, Black and Latino employees are concentrated in occupations with lower education requirements and lower wages, Lemmon said.

In LA County, 35% of licensed vocational nurses are Latino, compared to about 17% of registered nurses. Black workers make up 16% of licensed vocational nurses but only 8% of registered nurses, according to Center for a Competitive Workforce’s 2021 data.

In computer science and engineering programs, there is also a gender disparity; while 53% of students enrolled in LA County community colleges are women, only 18% of students in a computer science transfer or engineering program are women, said Lemmon.

“We know that health and engineering are high-wage paying jobs, and we know there is a lack of saturation in those fields,” said Elijah Sims, interim director of Long Beach College Promise.

Meant to address lower college-going rates among students of color, the College Promise program has been extremely successful, Sims said.

“This sort of collaboration is really central to what we’re trying to accomplish in the College Promise and the grant,” Sims said.

What it means for Long Beach

And as part of the LA Region K-16 Collaborative, Long Beach’s educational institutions hope to see even more progress.

During the first quarter of next year, most likely around March, Long Beach—along with the other subregions—will present its proposals for the funding, all of which must account for three key goals:

  • To expand and enhance dual enrollment offerings, ensuring that students of color are accessing and completing them;
  • To improve transfer pathways and matriculation between community colleges and four-year colleges, particularly in the engineering, computing and health care industries; and
  • To develop work-based learning opportunities.

Applying strategies to students at each stage of their education is integral and will be addressed in Long Beach’s proposal, Sims said.

While around 5,000 students graduate each year from an LBUSD school, about 2,500 of those students come to LBCC, 1,000 of whom then transfer to CSULB, Sims said.

Considering the data, the Long Beach subregion will be examining how students are entering certain pathways, how they are transitioning to college and if they understand what their choices are along with the economic implications, Sims said.

“The students we want to support in this grant are choosing other majors,” Sims said. “We believe this grant will help us to fix these issues. We’re not gonna do what’s easy. We’ll do what matters, and what matters is we start as early as possible.”

Elements of the proposal must address exposure to these careers as early as elementary school, while also maintaining a focus on middle school, where students have the opportunity to consider their pathway, Sims said. For first-generation students who don’t typically see as many people in their communities or families in these fields, this is particularly important, he said.

At the university level, an example of the type of work the collaborative can support launched this fall at CSULB. The university’s new Strengthening Youth Resilience, or “SYR,” program within the College of Health and Human Services is meant to increase workforce opportunities for social work majors.

“One of the main factors that prevents us from growing the program is the number of clinical placements, because in social work, students at the undergraduate level must perform 500 hours of (field experience),” said Monica Lounsbery, Dean of College of Health and Human Services at CSULB. “So we’re competing with all of the different institutions that offer those social work programs—we’re competing for those placements.”

Amid a gap in health care access and an acknowledgment that more support services are needed in more spaces, the College of Health and Human Services partnered with the Miller Foundation, the Munzer Foundation, the Long Beach Unified School District, Mental Health America of Los Angeles and the Boys and Girls Club, Long Beach to brainstorm a mutually beneficial program, Lounsbery said.

With the pilot program currently in motion, 11 graduate and undergraduate interns have been tasked with developing peer mentoring programs with middle school youth at Washington Middle School, Franklin Middle School and at the Long Beach Boys and Girls Club.

Lounsbery hopes that with the funding of the K-16 Collaborative, the School of Social Work will be able to add 50 additional seats, as well as increase its stackable credits, ultimately better meeting the demand for qualified health care professionals that the state and region need, she said.

‘A time of so much opportunity and hope’

While Long Beach partners are still awaiting guidance from the stewardship group on moving forward, Sims said that the region will be ready to submit as soon as that guidance is provided.

“Our students can’t afford to wait. They’ve been waiting so long for us to figure this out, so it behooves us to be as efficient and expeditious as possible,” he said. “As we’re twiddling our thumbs waiting to figure out a process, we’ve got folks struggling with basic needs, with income, in pathways they don’t understand how to monetize. These are all things we know we can address.”

Sims, who grew up attending Long Beach Unified schools and graduated from Long Beach City College and then Cal State Long Beach, is extremely excited for the possibilities of the grant, he said.

“I identify as a Black male, and data suggests that for students like me, I shouldn’t have made it as efficiently as I did, and I shouldn’t have made it all,” he said. “I shouldn’t be the lucky one. I should be one of many that has the opportunity to transform experience through education.”

“It’s just a time of so much opportunity and hope for Long Beach residents and Long Beach students,” Sims said.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly named one of the organizations that CSULB’s College of Health and Human Services has partnered with. The organization is the Munzer Foundation. The story has been updated.