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Aspirations, Barriers, and Transfer Opportunities for Latina and Latino Community College Students


The majority of California's students seeking higher education are enrolled in a community college and approximately a third are Latino. Yet as the number of Latinos in community colleges has risen, their degree completion and transfer rates lag in comparison to other major ethnic groups.

To investigate the academic aspirations and barriers of community college students, this mixed-methods case study focused on Latinos in a specialized learning community for students entering their first year. This research employed pre and post surveys among approximately 280 students enrolled in a first year learning community at a large urban community college in Southern California. Interviews were conducted with thirty-one students who were enrolled and successfully completed courses in the first year learning community. Additional students were interviewed who had previously been affiliated with the learning community but did not successfully complete their courses and were no longer enrolled. Interviews were also conducted with students who had successfully completed their second year at the community college and were employed in the specialized learning community as a Peer Assistant.

Findings demonstrate that students held greater aspirations to transfer than to complete an Associate or Vocational degree. The majority of participants from all student cohorts expressed aspirations to transfer to a public university. Although the surveys and interviews provided insight into students' aspirations, the cohort of first year students appeared to lack specific knowledge about which academic pathway led to their desired degree or career.

These students all reported complex barriers in balancing financial and personal responsibilities with their academic workload. Students who had participated in the matriculation process and received early academic planning through the learning community programming held more realistic perceived timelines to transfer, highlighting the importance of early access to counselors and academic planning to help students' overcome institutional barriers.

The majority of participants struggled to reach college transferable "gatekeeper" courses, where most students were placed in developmental English and Mathematics courses in their first semester. The study concludes with recommendations for future research and improved practices to address the high aspirations towards transfer and barriers that students face at community colleges.

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