New Poll and Report Highlight the Experiences of Students of Color in California Higher Education




Kristin Costa, [email protected], 408.500.8555

Stephanie Ong, [email protected], 415.786.5568


3 In 4 California College Students Worried About Staying On Track To Graduate Due to Pandemic

Equity gaps between basic needs and available resources are widening, especially for students of color

The coronavirus crisis is taking a heavy toll academically, emotionally, and financially on higher education students according to a new poll released today by The Education Trust–West in collaboration with The Education Trust–New York. The poll was released in tandem with Hear My Voice II, a new report on the experiences of women of color who attend the California State University (CSU) and are either unhoused or parenting. The poll and the report call attention to equity gaps the coronavirus crisis is exacerbating for students of color and students from lower-income communities.

More than three-quarters of (75%) of California students say they are somewhat or very concerned about staying on track to graduate in the wake of the pandemic. Nationally, the worry is heightened for Black (84%) and Latinx (81%) students. Many report that both their engagement in their coursework and the quality of their education has diminished since schools moved online. Contributing to students’ fears are wide gaps between the services they would find helpful and those that schools have provided. In particular, students indicated that better access to online resources and additional opportunities for interactions with faculty, counselors, and staff would be helpful.

Students are also struggling to afford tuition and meet basic needs. A third (33%) of California students have skipped or reduced meals because they cannot afford or access food. Less than half (49%) are confident that they will be able to pay for basic needs like food, housing, and tuition if the current crisis isn’t resolved in the next two months.

Nationwide, the pandemic has also exacerbated pre-existing inequities for students of color, first generation college students, and students from lower-income families who already faced too many barriers to an affordable, high-quality college education. 

  • Students who live in lower-income households (<$50,000) expressed high levels of concern about additional issues, such as being able to support family financially while in school (66% compared to 40% of higher-income students) and needing to drop out to support themselves or their families financially (63% versus 45%).
  • 86% Black students are worried about not being able to afford tuition or other expenses, compared to 64% of White students.
  • 60% of Black students and 67% of Latinx students are worried about losing access to affordable, campus-based health services compared to 46% of White students.
  • More than 40% of Latinx students in two-year programs say the crisis has made them less likely to transfer to a four-year school.
  • 67% of Asian students are concerned about experiencing bigotry or hate due to prejudice associated with the coronavirus.

Hear My Voice Report Released

The Education TrustWest’s newest report, Hear My Voice II explores findings from interviews with parenting and unhoused women of color who attend the California State University (CSU). Interviewees describe years-long battles against many of these same challenges that their peers have been forced to navigate recently: limited financial aid, basic needs insecurity, and a lack of access to childcare and housing. For example, the gap between students’ needs and available services like childcare and housing was one of the key barriers unhoused and parenting students cited as part of their everyday lives pre-coronavirus. This poll underscores those perspectives: it found that only 9% and 11% of California students report that their college or university provides additional childcare and housing options, respectively, but 49% and 66% indicated that each would be helpful, respectively. Now, in addition to the stigma that accompanies housing insecurity and parenthood, these students face a crisis compounded by the coronavirus. 

Promoting undergraduate success, particularly for parenting and unhoused women of color, will be key to preventing lasting damage to millions of student’s college dreams. Swift action that listens to and meets students’ needs will go a long way toward addressing educational inequities, promoting the financial well-being of women of color, and investing in California’s future. The Education TrustWest urges state policymakers and CSU leadership working to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic to continue to take into special consideration the needs of marginalized students.  

“If we’re not listening to students, our efforts will not successfully support them,” said Dr. Elisha Smith Arillaga, executive director of the Education Trust–West. “As we respond to this crisis, and to the personal crisis that many students cope with while they pursue higher education, all of our actions should be guided by the real needs of the people closest to the challenge—the students themselves.” 

In tandem, the poll and report demonstrate an urgent need for public leaders to step in before millions of current students drop out or suffer even more trying to continue their studies. To change this trajectory, states will need to protect higher education budgets and consider race conscious policymaking solutions, Congress will need to help fill equity gaps, and higher education leaders will need to prepare to meet students’ academic and non-academic needs as never before.

The poll collected data on both supply and demand for services and resources, revealing a gap between what is needed and what is available. Although a majority (75%) of college/university students in California report that their school handled the coronavirus well, most reported that online textbooks, tutoring, virtual office hours, financial aid, mental health services, and internet access would be helpful while few reported them being available. Schools will need to be prepared to close these gaps when students return in the fall.


Would be helpful School is doing this  
87% 48% Virtual office hours or other ways to connect with faculty
86% 47% Virtual office hours or other ways to connect with academic or career advisors
85% 24% Career advising and job preparation
85% 31% Emergency financial aid or other financial support
82% 51% Tutoring, advising, or other academic support
78% 34% Food support, like access to food pantries
76% 35% Mental health services, counseling, and emotional or psychological support
66% 11% Alternative housing arrangements
49% 9% Alternative child care arrangements


The pandemic threatens academic achievement at all stages, ranging from lower engagement and concerns about academic performance to doubts about whether graduation and subsequent career opportunities are even possible anymore.

  • 20% of California students are not confident they will even return to school in the fall.
  • 43% of them say the quality of instruction they receive is getting worse due to colleges going virtual, and 49% say their interest and engagement in coursework is waning.
  • 80% are worried that their grades will suffer, 75% are worried about staying on track to graduate, and 78% are worried they will not get the skills or work experience they need to get a job. 
  • 32% of two-year students in California—and 42% of Latinx students nationwide—say they are less likely to consider transferring to a four-year program than before the pandemic.
  • One out of every ten students of color across the country says they lack the internet-enabled devices to participate in online classes, and 15% of Latinx students cite lack of reliable internet as a challenge.


Students in California are struggling to meet their own basic needs, including food and housing, in addition to tuition.

  • A third (33%) of college students in California—and 43% of students from lower-income households and 39% of students of color nationwide—have skipped or reduced the size of their meals because they cannot afford or access food.
  • Less than half (49%) of California students and only 43% of students from lower-income households nationwide say they think they will be able to pay for expenses like food, housing, and tuition if the current crisis isn’t resolved in the next two months.
  • Most California students (54%) feel uneasy about their personal finances.
  • Nationwide 60% of Black students and 67% of Latinx students are worried about losing access to affordable, campus-based health services compared to 46% of White students.

The pandemic has also borne disturbing mental health trends that will continue unless ample resources and supports are provided 

  • A shocking 36% of California students are worried about developing substance abuse or addiction during this time.
  • 66% say they are concerned about experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues when they return to school in the fall. 

“The diverse students in our state are facing a confluence of tremendous challenges that threaten their ability to finish college, find work, support their families, and maintain their physical and mental health,” said Monica Lozano, President and CEO of College Futures Foundation. “As we respond, we must do so creatively and collectively, with an unwavering focus on equity and students who are the most vulnerable. If we do that, we help ensure that vital pathways to opportunity and the dream of an inclusive society survive the crisis of the current moment.”

“The impact of COVID-19 varies for every student,” said Michael Wiafe, outgoing president of the Cal State Student Association. “I come from the California State University system, which serves the largest and most academically, ethnically, and regionally diverse four-year student body in the nation. This also means that while some students have a smooth transition to the changes brought by the pandemic, others have had to cope with the frustration and difficulty of what it now takes to pass class successfully. COVID-19 has exacerbated inequities across the nation, and this does not exclude higher education. Faculty, staff, administrators, elected officials, and all those who have an impact on the student experience must come together in support of students as we navigate the effects of the pandemic.”

“The University of California system struggles to recruit, retain, and graduate Black and Latinx students under normal circumstances. These students are now facing even higher barriers because of the pandemic,” Varsha Sarveshwar, President of the UC Student Association, said. “Elected officials and higher education leaders must work together to invest in diversity, equity, and inclusion during these unprecedented times.”


A more detailed polling memo can be found here.



About The Education Trust–West

The Education Trust–West works for educational justice and the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-K through college, in the state of California. We expose opportunity and achievement gaps that separate students of color and low-income students from other youth, and we identify and advocate for the strategies that will forever close those gaps.


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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.