Education has been a powerful influence in my maturity and social mobility. However, many students of color from my hometown have not yet earned the “college graduate” title. More have been academically tracked and/or have fallen into the school-to-prison pipeline. Higher education was originally intended for white elite men, but our nation has diversified over the last several decades and impacted institutions of higher education. Institutional stratification is the division set by “prestige, resources, and selectivity of both faculty and students” (Schudde & Goldrick-Rab, 2016). For example, many peers have stratified the California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) systems as two distinct levels of institutions. CSUs focus on practical and application but is considered lower ranked colleges compared to UCs that focus on research and theory. Community colleges are frowned upon by many community members, though many choose this route due to their socioeconomic status.
Socioeconomic status influences the range of access for many as “students from low-income households appear more likely to attend broad-access institutions, with 50 percent of those from family incomes of under $50,000 enrolled at community colleges or proprietary colleges” (Schudde & Goldrick-Rab, 2016). Some students pursue community college to refrain from high debt and other barriers, then transfer to a four-year institute. According to Yosso (2005)’s educational pipeline, out of every 100 (female/male) Latina/o elementary student, 46 will graduate high school, 17 will go to community college and only 1 will successfully transfer to a four-year institution (Yosso & Solórzano, 2006). Factors such as institutional racism, socioeconomic status, and unequal access to resources may influence student outcome.
I worked for the UCLA Early Academic Outreach Program during my undergraduate career. I mentored and counseled high school students on A-G requirements, four systems of higher education, and financial aid to better equip them for college. Students mentioned the colleges and universities they were interested to apply. Though I was excited to prepare them for the application process, I noticed a disturbing pattern. Students with a 3.0 grade-point-average (GPA) or lower aimed toward broad-access, less-selective institutions such as community colleges. Though community colleges have great resources and supportive programs, many felt embarrassed and avoided any top-tier colleges. Several chose community colleges in the local area because they fear financial costs from expensive four-year institutions. Others feel a sense of community guilt if they leave their family and neighborhood for a college far away. A couple of students stated they planned to enter the workforce instead of applying to colleges because they were certain to be rejected; some were told not to apply to elite or more selective universities, as their application would be immediately discarded and overlooked. Few educators in our schools showed minor empathy and hope for students of color, especially if they live in a low-income household within an inner-city community and had a negative background.
A faculty of color once mentioned that the higher education system was not designed for people like me. Though I did not comprehend the message at first, it was not until the end of my college career where I reflected and truly understood my presence on-campus as an anomaly. A student’s background, or their social conditions, should not be a determinant on whether one would succeed in higher education. Students from a disadvantaged background should not have their academic potential limited but instead, supported and pushed to unveil it. We must nurture and empower student growth and development by providing resources to increase access to more selective, competitive universities. My high school friends and I were constantly told to settle for less because we were not as competitive or lived in an affluent household as those from more privileged communities. Two of my close high school friends and I were on track to enlist in the military, as we carried the misperception that scholarships were not otherwise accessible. However, we were fortunate enough to obtain certain mentors who dismantled the misguided and inaccurate information about scholarships and the college application process, a privilege many others were unable to have.
Some believe inequality has decreased in higher education because the number of students of color has increased; however, “this is not true if access is limited to colleges with low degree completion and limited labor market” (Schudde & Goldrick-Rab, 2016). Latino and African Americans have populated public two-year colleges and proprietary (“for-profit) institutions, “disproportionately women, African American or Hispanic, and single parents” (Schudde & Goldrick-Rab, 2016). Less selective colleges are more likely to have lower quality resources compared to more selective and elite universities. We must have faith in our younger students just as we received or desired back then. Though my community may not have proper access to more selective universities, it does not mean we should settle for the minimum.
Question: Looking back, what would you have told yourself during the college application process when you were in high school?